From my very first post I wanted to pay homage to the speech which inspired the title of my blog, Ain't I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth. Such a beautiful speech, such a beautiful name, such a beautiful woman. It is one of my favorite pieces. I strive to emulate this style in my own work. Poetic and powerful. Honest and unafraid. Memorable. And I like brevity. It too is beautiful. This is the standard I wish to be held to as I explore the question with you ~ ain't I a writer?
"Obliged to you for hearing me, and I do have a few things more to say..."

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Monday, January 19, 2015

A Wish

       On this day most of all I wish my children's book about Reverend King visiting NH could find an interested publisher.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Retreating to the Green Mountains

      Well, you probably already know I am a serious word counter, and post my daily total on my Facebook page. You may also know that I have become a fan of writing retreats. It has actually been quite a long time (two years, feels like a long time!) since I have had a real vacation (not that I am opposed to that!) as I have been spending any travel money I have on retreats or research trips.
      I am happy to announce that I have been accepted into one this winter which gives me something to look forward to as I hunker down here and finish up this first draft of my first historical novel. I hope to head up into the Green Mountains of Vermont in mid-March with a completed manuscript, and begin my revisions there. I think I can do it!
      The retreat is called When Words Count and takes place at the farm pictured below.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Death Becomes Her (Sometimes)

     Here is something I wrote recently following one of my weekends in NYC. This was originally published by Seacoast Media Group (Dec. 2014). I also took all of these photos.

      Death Becomes Her

By Tammi J Truax

       Vanity Fair called it “… a perfect little black cocktail dress of a show…”, and I highly recommend it too. Now through February first there is an exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anna Wintour Costume Center which I recently visited, and knew many of you would be interested in it. The exhibit is called Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire.

           This exhibit really is a striking artistic as well as cultural display. The detail and darkness of the garments are contrasted starkly by the white mannequins wearing white wigs in the all-white gallery. White curtains and panels add a quiet and slightly sacred softness to the large open space. There are about thirty ensembles for men, women and children on display, along with accessories, quotes, fashion plates and historical photographs.

       The history of mourning attire is fascinating as alluringly alluded to in this quote from the exhibit’s curator Harold Koda, “The predominantly black palette of mourning dramatizes the evolution of period silhouettes and the increasing absorption of fashion ideals into this most codified of etiquettes. … The veiled widow could elicit sympathy as well as predatory male advances. As a woman of sexual experience without marital constraints, she was often imagined as a potential threat to the social order.”

      While the wearing of black garments when in mourning dates back to ancient times, this exhibit covers only a century of the tradition spanning the years from 1815 to 1915. That century, though was a period of time when mourning fashion, as a part of grief expression, became very serious in our nation in large part due to the overwhelming loss of life in the Civil War. While across the pond all time champion mourner and fashion trend setter, Queen Victoria, donned an all-black ensemble upon the death of her husband Albert in 1859, which she would continue to do every day until her own death forty-two years later.

     The more common cultural requirement for wearing black during that century was two years. These demands were focused on the female, but men had some requirements to follow too. As evidenced by the elaborately designed ensembles in the exhibit this must have been more than just an emotional drain on the bereaved, but also a financial one. A considerable amount of money had to be set aside to have a mourning wardrobe made, which of course, many war widows could ill afford to do. Poor people would often resort to dyeing their clothes black so as not to defy convention. There were stages of mourning dress as well; “full mourning” was followed in due time by “half mourning” when a woman could begin to introduce one or two other colors into her black outfits as long as they were not bright or light. Shades of gray were considered safe.







      After the death of her son First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was once reported to be wearing “deep black”, the meaning of which seems inexplicable, but helps us to understand how society judged the person by what she was wearing. There were even expectations on the fabrics that should be chosen, with a preference for dull, not shiny ones, such as crape.

       I had always assumed that a widow’s black clothing communicated only that she was still grieving for the loss of a loved one. I was surprised to learn that these costumes were also used to communicate her availability for remarriage, and that suitors and busybodies could interpret when she could be remarried based on the stage of dress. Veils, generally only worn when leaving the home, had another variety of meanings for the onlooker to interpret.

      While I am greatly relieved that such harsh expectations have been eased, I do find the study of them interesting. Unlike most museum exhibits, this one has a little something for just about everyone. Death Becomes Her is an enthralling look at our past that will be of interest to both fashion and history enthusiasts, as well as all ilk of Goth folks and ghost hunters. The exhibit can be seen seven days a week at the museum’s 1000 Fifth Avenue location in New York City which charges pay-what-you-can admission.

       

Friday, December 12, 2014

Speaking for Grace Paley

      Today on what would have been her 85th birthday I pen a tribute post to Grace Paley. A Jewish girl from the Bronx, Grace lived out her later years in Vermont.

      Shortly before her death in 2007 I had an opportunity to study with her at a New Hampshire workshop, but because of family obligations I didn't. I have not, and I'm sure I never will, stopped regretting that. Regrets torment me sometimes. Writing of them relieves the torment. Sometimes.

      So I embrace her words, the gorgeous, relivable legacy of a writer. Her prose and her poetry, but more often her advice. This is a favorite;

       “The best training is to read and write, no matter what. Don’t live with a lover or roommate who doesn’t respect your work. Don’t lie, buy time, borrow to buy time. Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write.” 

         Though we suffered the loss of her, I am glad that she was spared living through recent events in our country which I think would have pained her deeply, as evidenced by the following quote given when she was asked of the world that she hoped her grandchildren would live in;

       "It would be a world without militarism and racism and greed – and where women don't have to fight for their place in the world."

      We can do better. We can bring more Grace to the way we live.

                                                            9780374524319-195x300.jpg (195×300)

      Still, we must not give up. As evidenced by these words she also left for us;

"Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the world."

      And here in a 1992 interview Grace talks about her writing;

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2028/the-art-of-fiction-no-131-grace-paley




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

White Mother Musings

       This is a painful week of Thanksgiving. The proudly American holiday of counting our blessings and of celebrating and sharing our abundance, occurring at the same time as all of the ugly truths and falsehoods in Ferguson remind us, yet again, of all that we have not accomplished as a nation. An ugly old legacy we just can't seem to process.
      I don't want to add to the divisiveness, which is so severe, that maybe, just maybe, some good can come from it. So I'm not blogging on the subject to engage in debate, simply as a bit of reflection.
      I just keep thinking of the Mom. Michael Brown's mother, Mrs. Lesley McSpadden.
      I have a son who is 6.4 and 250 lbs. too. I've had some fears for him since he achieved that size. My son, too, did some stupid things when he was a teenager. Mine too had several "brushes with the law", (though his were for marijuana and nothing violent). And the law where I live always allowed, even encouraged, me to throw wads of cash at them as a resolution. Which I always did. I have never had to worry, or even contemplate, that he would be shot six times. Shot dead.
      Sadly, I know many people will annihilate my analogy to justify the death, saying it was necessary and/or deserved. I have heard the arguments. They have accepted the old-as-the-Emancipation Proclamation self-defense testimony of a white man of equal size calling the suspect a hulk and a demon. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that that were true (though I don't find it all credible or even remotely believable in this case), we should still ask, we should still care, why? Why would any of that behavior have occurred? If the suspects were white youth what would have been different?
      What if he were your son?
      I'm going to share again the poem I wrote after the Zimmerman verdict, and am so sorry for the Browns. I wish them peace and comfort this week and always. What I know for sure is that while I can sympathize I cannot know their sorrow. I simply cannot know it. I can imagine it is unbearable, but I will never know.

My son and a friend in the back of my car a few years back.



      Lastly, since my blog is supposed to be about writing, I leave you with this excerpt from a 1960 American masterpiece of literature;

“The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”
                                                                       ~ from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

For the Other Parents

Since the year 1863
there has been a talk many American parents
have to have with their American sons
at just about the time that their son’s
voices begin to change, and their muscles
harden into impending manhood,
at just about the time that referring
to the boy as boy becomes something else.
They say things like these,
things I have never had to say to my son,
nor have any of my ancestors
since the year 1863.

***

There will be times, from now on
when people will be afraid of you.
You have to be aware of this at all times,
to develop a sense for it, to feel it
before it turns bad, because
very bad things can happen to you
when people are afraid of you.
You can’t play with toy guns anymore,
or swords, or pick up pipes, or even sticks.
Always be aware of your surroundings.
Try not to go anywhere alone,
especially at night.
If you’re being followed try to find someone
so you’re not alone.
Cooperate with authorities even when
your dignity makes that hard.
Don’t do anything with your hands but put them up.
Don’t worry about winning or losing.
Your goal is to survive.
Let them stand their hallowed ground
that they’re afraid of you taking.
You just stay alive.
And always - remember
there is nothing wrong with you,
nothing wrong with the way you look.
You are who you have always been
and that is the ground that
you have to stand.

by Tammi J Truax
all right reserved

Friday, November 21, 2014

Speaking of Strangers

       Yesterday when I heard that the major television networks were not going to air the President's address to the public, on the public airwaves, as they have always done, I felt my proverbial camel's back snapping, breaking sharply but completely. The attacks on our rightfully elected (twice) chief, attacks both overt and covert, are so shameful that I barely recognize my own nation. And no doubt, President Obama will be blamed for that too. 

       He wanted to talk to us about immigration. A strangely volatile subject. Strange, because if you are living here and are not an immigrant, that is because you have quite literally been grandfathered in. We are a nation of strangers, yet our fear of "the stranger" is intense.

      The gravest stranger now, it seems to me, is the democracy that we are supposed to be. The founding fathers, I am sure, would be appalled at the way the "POTUS" has been maligned. The man who in their day they called "His Excellency" has my complete support to restore the great experiment, and he has my support based on philosophy and politics, as well as honor and tradition. 

     I share a multimedia poem I recently exhibited at a local art gallery, on the subject of immigration, and I share a quote from the President's speech last night. Words that are far more poetic than my own. 



Assimilation

I dreamed of coming
to America, Land of the Free.

Longed, needed to come,
yearning to breathe free.

Tired, poor, and wretched
I left the home I knew well,

where the land I was one with
flowed familiar, never to trip,

where the words I was one with
flowed familiar, never to trick.

I came to these teeming shores,
arms held out to the Mother of Exhiles.

Gathering with others like me, yet
strangers to me, we huddled in masses.


We too cried with silent lips
but we changed …



our clothes,
             our speech,
                        our names.

Tossed our differences into the
pot to melt into cultural compost,

until at long last
we became one with America

calling those that come
strange.


by Tammi J Truax 
reprint with permission only


      "... Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger –- we were strangers once, too.
My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal -– that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.
That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless this country we love."






















Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NHWP

     Today I'd like to give a shout-out to one of the several writing organizations that I maintain membership in. Even though I have recently moved to a neighboring state I am unwilling to relinquish my membership in The New Hampshire Writers Project. The professional support I have found from this group, the personal connections that I have made at their events, and the lessons I have learned from their speakers and workshops are just too important to me to leave behind. If you live in New Hampshire, or even if you don't, check them out. I know you will find it worthwhile too.