Sympathy for the Devil or The Gentleman from Cracow

I’m afraid I’ve been thinking about evil. Recent events in this country have seen to that. But evil—or the devil—isn’t very central in Judaism. As far as I know, the devil appears only in Job, and there is seen doing what the devil does best—walking around on earth, and stirring up trouble. Then the devil and God make a bet about Job. But throughout, at least from my perspective, the devil is seen as subsidiary to God, even a part of God. For in Hebrew the word Satan simply means adversary.
But Milton and Mick Jagger aren’t the only ones who have some sympathy for the devil. The great I.B. Singer goes into quite a bit of detail about this personage in his short story “The Gentleman from Cracow”—a tale which has fascinated me ever since I read it as a teenager.
In a classic set-up, a suave outsider comes to town. He lends money, encourages orgies, and before much time has passed the formerly pious villagers are partying full out. Every kind of vice prevails.
Singer writes: “And then the gentleman from Cracow revealed his true identity. He was no longer the young man the villagers had welcomed, he was a creature covered with scales, with an eye in his chest, and on his forehead a horn that rotated at great speed. His arms were covered with hair, thorns, and elflocks, and his tail was a mass of live serpents; for he was none other than Ketev Mriri, Chief of the Devils.”
Vanishing as suddenly as he arrived, the devil leaves the villages embarrassed, ashamed, shocked, and horrified. Only the pious rabbi hasn’t been taken in—but he is a pretty ineffectual fellow. So…what happened?
Singer seems to say that evil—or, a more classic Jewish way of putting it—the inclination to do evil—comes from within and without. Those villagers would never have gone berserk on their own. But the tendency to bad behavior was inherent, or latent. And then, like a match to deadwood (or, dare I say it, a racist president to the KKK and neo-Nazis) the outside influence corrupts everything.
Are Singer’s villagers punished in the end? Not really. In an odd but thought provoking twist Singer cites the “kindness of the Jews” as the reason that neighboring villages help out and restore the community. Surely at the end of “Gentleman” Singer isn’t proposing that Jews—or humanity in general—is basically kind. Rather there is a balance here, with the inclination to do good.
The pious rabbi’s grave shines a beacon of light. Life returns to normal. The devil has gone back to the big city and left our village alone.
Let’s hope so.

5 Tips for Applying to Writing Fellowships and Residencies by Danielle Corcione

I’m glad to be included here…enjoy.

5 Tips for Applying to Writing Fellowships and Residencies
by Danielle Corcione

If you’ve ever applied for a writing residency, retreat or fellowship, it sometimes feels intimidating to know your application is lumped into a pile with highly accomplished and well-established writers.
As a young writer, the application alone was a big enough barrier to scare me away from life-changing opportunities and thinking ahead in my writing career. For many writers like myself, it’s easy to fall into a hole of self-pity and invalidate our own personal achievements.
Luckily, the application process doesn’t have to be this way.
To learn some strategies about applying to residencies and fellowships, I reached out to a handful of writers who have been accepted to and completed prestigious opportunities. Here are their tips.

1. Communicate clearly in your application
Mailee Hung, a 2017 Bitch Media Writing Fellow, stresses the importance of effective communication in your letter of intent.
Your statement should “clearly outline what your project is, how you’re going to do it, [and] why that particular residency/fellowship is the best venue to do it in,” she says. “You need to state your claims early, if only to show that you’ve thought about it seriously and you know how to build an argument.”
Overall, you need to be ready to sell your best self.
Articulate why your work is particularly unique and special. Poet and former Artist-In-Residence at the Everglades National Park Miriam Sagan even recommends addressing some weaknesses.
“I heard through the grapevine I was once rejected for a residency because I asked for ‘too short” of a stay,” she explains. “From then on, I addressed my need for short stays directly.”

2. Understand your needs
Poet and teacher Laura Wetherington, who participated in residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre, recommends writers begin their program search by identifying their own artistic needs because, as you’d expect, programs can be very different from each other.
“Are you looking for a place to collaborate with other artists and feed off the collective energy, or are you looking for a solitary, quiet situation?” She says. “Do you need the internet, access to the post office or to bring a bunch of books with you?“
Knowing the answers to these questions will strengthen your statement of intent, because it provides you with a stronger connection to the program and its accommodations.

3. Go abroad
Sagan has completed more than a dozen residencies and fellowships, both domestic and abroad.
She says international residences are far less competitive compared to those within the United States.
“[International programs] cost about the price of a Motel 6 daily or less and tend to be government subsidized,” Sagan explains. “If you need funding, look at short-term Fulbrights for artists and other exchange programs. Look at your city’s Sister Cities too.”
For potential funding opportunities as a Philadelphia-based writer, I can look into my city’s affiliate Sister Cities, which include Tel Aviv, Israel; Florence, Italy; and Aix-en-Provence, France.

4. Fundraise as needed
“The slightly funded residencies are much more competitive,” Sagan explains. “Go for unfunded ones as well.”
Sagan recommends pursuing crowdfunding if you’re pursuing an unpaid residency and all other funding opportunities fail. “A GoFundMe campaign can get you anywhere,” she says.
She also adds to keep your expenses as low as possible. Minimize your luxuries by cooking on a budget rather than eating out, for instance.
Also, remember to maximize your time and use it to the fullest if offered the opportunity. Take advantage of the financial investment (especially if the program isn’t funded) you’re making.
After all, it’s unlikely that you’ll fit that much writing into your regular schedule without a residency or fellowship.
Think about what you can do with sustained time that you can’t do on your regular writing schedule, and prioritize that,” explains Gemma Cooper-Novack, a writer with a CV of over six residencies including the Betsy Hotel Writer’s’ Room in Miami, Florida.

5. Just do it
But most of all? “Don’t get discouraged!” Mailee adds.
Most writers will be too intimidated to even consider applying. Slap on some imposter’s syndrome and the application process becomes a nightmare. However, it’s important to just do the thing and at the very least submit an application.
The worst that could happen is, well, you won’t get an offer.
“Some of my most devastating rejections have led me to make the best decisions of my life,” she elaborates. Apply to anything you’re excited about, and know the value of your own work. There are a lot of reasons for rejection beyond “you just weren’t good enough.”
Plus, applying to programs gets easier over time.
“If it’s at all possible, I strongly advise taking the first residency you’re accepted to, even if you have to put down some money, get into one however possible,” stresses Cooper-Novak. “I do think that after I got my first residency [at Can Serrat in El Bruc, Catalonia, Spain)], other residencies started to look at me more closely.”
As you can tell from these writers’ advice, applying to a residency and/or fellowship doesn’t have to mean beating imposter syndrome. The process may still be a little intimidating, but not so much that it prevents you from actually submitting your application.
Take it from the experts: apply and apply again until you’re accepted.

***

https://thewritelife.com/applying-to-writing-fellowships/

DREAMERS By Lorenzo Atencio

DREAMERS
By Lorenzo Atencio

The last bell rings. I get all my books and get ready to leave when our science teacher Mr. Mays announces to the class:
“Okay, one last thing. I have good news. The regional chapter of the Math and Science Association will have this year’s competition in thirty days. If you are interested in entering a science project, stay for a few minutes after class. As always, the winner gets a full scholarship to the state university.”
Seven students remain sitting as the class room empties. I turn to look at them. There are four nerdy looking boys from a different class, and my unshakable nemesis Cheryl Soisbee and her best friend Carol Porter.
When all that remain are sitting, Mr. Mays says, “Please take a parental permission form to be signed by your parents or guardians. Get them back to me on Friday. We will discuss your projects then. If you don’t have any questions, you may leave.”
As we walk out, Cheryl gives me a sideways look and says to her friend, Carol, “I didn’t know that ESL students are allowed to submit a project in the science fair.”
“What’s ESL?” asks Carol.
“English as a Second Language. You never heard?” asks Cheryl. “Oh yeah. I just forgot – the M E X I C A N S” says Carol.
They both look at me with a smug smirk and laugh. I had told myself to ignore them no matter what they do, but I am so tired of their harassment that I snap at them, “What is your problem? What have I ever done to you?”
“You were born.” answers Cheryl without hesitation. “I don’t like that you act like you’re an American. Now you want to be in the science fair. You have to know how to speak English to be in the science fair. You should just go back where you came from.”
“I have as much right to enter the competition as you do.” I say.
Cheryl’s answer is quick and automatic, “Prove it.”
I say, “I’ll show you at the science fair.”
“You’re going to have to speak English there.” Cheryl and Carol laugh again as they turn to leave, then Cheryl adds, “Maybe we should call Immigration.”
I feel like telling her to go ahead and call Immigration, but I hear my father’s voice in my head warning me of the consequences of being deported. I have no memory of Oaxaca, Mexico. When I was 4 years old, my parents brought me and my 2 year old brother, Marcos, to America to follow their own American Dream: a job and an education for their children.
Now I am about to graduate from high school and I desperately want to attend college. I have to figure out how I’m going to get Papa’ and Mama’ to sign the permission form. I’ll discuss it with Marcos on our bus ride home. He’s always a good listener.
_________________
Marcos sums it up for me. “Luz, you know how Dad is about being deported. Always telling us to stay under the radar and don’t answer questions. He doesn’t want to go back to Oaxaca.”
“I can understand that. I just want to be an engineer. I have always wanted to be an engineer. My only chance and my only hope of being an engineer is to win the scholarship to the university.
“Just talk to him. He’ll probably say this not a good time to be visible with half the country screaming for deporting all undocumented immigrants.” says Marcos. “But you’ll know what to say.”
“Let’s hope that Mom and Dad say yes.”
Later that night, as Papá reads the newspaper after supper, I sit next to him at the table. When he notices me, I begin, “Papá, I would like to go to college and study to be an engineer. Do you think that will ever happen?”
Mr. Arenado is slow to answer his daughter. “Hija,, it would make me so proud and happy to see you become an engineer. But your mama and I don’t have the money to pay for college.”
“What if I found a way of going to college without it costing you anything?”
“Are you going to rob a bank? Or maybe you will win the lottery?” Dad raises an eyebrow. Mom
asks, “Como?”
I see an opening. “No silly. I can get it by doing extra school work. I can win a full scholarship to
the university.”
“No se. I don’t know. That sounds too easy. What are you not telling me?” asks Papá.
“Well, it’s a competition to see who can make the best science project. I have an idea to make electricity from the sun to turn a small fan. It’s clean energy that’s being looked at by big companies.”
“You just sign this consent form saying that you give me permission to enter the science project competition. It doesn’t cost you anything.”
Papa’ asks “If you win, you will be in the newspapers, right?”
“Well, Papá, being in the newspapers seems to be automatic, but I can say I want my privacy and not allow pictures of me. The school doesn’t know if I have documents and they don’t care.” I argue.” No one will even know that I’m undocumented or from Mexico.”
Papá says, “Hita, when they see you in person, they will see a pretty girl with dark skin color and Mayan features and know that you are from Mexico. There are many people that resent immigrants to the point of hate. Someone will ask questions. This is not the time to be visible.
Papá says even more emphatically, “I sure don’t want to go back to Oaxaca. There is nothing there. No jobs. No food. No way,”
“Papá. Think about it. We’ve been in this country for thirteen years. How many jobs have you had? I think you’ve worked at every restaurant in town. French, Chinese. Italian. Que no?”
“Don’t forget Mexican restaurants,” adds Papá.
Mama’ says, “I feel like there is an angry mob carrying torches looking for us to deport us. I don’t understand what we have done that is so bad. We aren’t suicide bombers or terrorists. We come to work. Ms. Lopez says the immigration laws are being used to steal our wages and homes and to break up our families. They call us ‘illegal’ because it sounds like ‘criminal.’”
“Stop. Stop. Wait a minute. Who is Ms. Lopez?” asks Papá.
“Ms. Lopez is our civics teacher. We discuss the Constitution and immigration issues in her class. I like her.”
“She says they are turning the screws – intentionally putting fear into our lives. Papá, we have to push back. Whenever we are told that we don’t belong in America, we need to boldly say ‘yes we do.’ I want to enter the science fair to show everyone that I have the right to enter that contest. And because I can win.”
“Ms. Lopez thinks deporting 11 million immigrants is either a bluff or the dumbest idea she’s heard. She says they aren’t going to deport 11 million people.
Marcos chimes in, “That would be 11 million Walmart shoppers. What does Walmart say about that?”
I answer emphatically, “Now is exactly the time to be visible – and vocal. We can’t just roll over and play dead. “Papa’, things are changing. There is a revolution coming. Not a revolution like Pancho Villa’s. A revolution of ideas.”
“Si. We’ve earned the right to stay in America. I have pledged my allegiance to America every day in school for twelve years. I believed it when I was told that all men are created equal, and I still do. You’ve been working hard. You both have given your time and labor and the owners have succeeded.“
“That also means we won’t be able to pay the loans at the credit union, or our car payment, or our trailer payments if we are deported. Uncle Sam would be shooting himself in the foot to deport us.” says Papá with a grin.
“Why haven’t they deported us sooner? She says if they were going to deport us they could have easily done it with the technology available today. They just want to scare us to squeeze more out of us.Undocumented workers turn the wheels of our economy by our hard work. Who will turn the wheels if we are kicked out?”
“Maybe there’s an App for that.” murmurs Marcos
Mamá adds, “I wonder if the first lady can fix breakfast? Anyway, I’m ready to buy a truck and load up our possessions and go back to my beautiful state of Oaxaca where my family is, if we have to.”
Papá ends the discussion. “Your mother and I need to talk this over. We’ll give you our answer in the morning.”
That night I dream of a priest wearing a cape of brightly colored feathers, standing in front of the sun. He smiles at me and the brilliance of his smile washes over me and magically transforms me into a hummingbird of green and blue. I harvest energy nectar from the sun and carry it to all things in the universe. And with that task comes the ability to fly in any direction, up or down, forward or backwards, fast or slow, or just hover. It gives me a feeling of power and freedom.
The next morning, I barely feel traces of the power to fly, but I remember the dream clearly. When I describe it to Papa’ he says, “You dreamed of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god who causes the sun to rise. He is the strongest god of the Aztec religion. That is a very good omen.”
Then Papá looks at me and says, “Well, we agree that since we can’t give you college, we will not deprive you of an opportunity to go to college. We are willing to risk deportation because we agree that it’s time to come out and fight.”
Neither Marcos or I say anything until we walk out of the house and down the street. Then, Marcos raises his hand for a high-five. “You did it! I didn’t think you could ever change their minds.” I jump and slap his palm.
“Now I have to focus on my science project.”
As I think about creating electricity from the sun, I am reminded of last night’s dream. I know that Huitzilopoch is with me.
I exclaim to the universe, “I’m feeling like a hummingbird.”

Creative Writing at SFCC: Come Join Our Fiction Classes!

There are spaces in Intermediate Fiction (English 225) at SFCC this fall. It’s aimed at focused development of craft and stories. Russ Whiting is the instructor—and I’ve asked him to talk about the class below.
There are still a very few spots left in my on-line fiction class (English 221)—take it from anywhere in the world! Focus is on flash fiction. Terry Wilson’s writing class (English 120), always a jump start, is also open to a few more folks.

Check out http://www.sfcc.edu

And feel free to ask me directly about our AA, certificate, and individual classes at: miriam.sagan@sfcc.edu

Interview with Russ Whiting

What are the major one or two things students will learn in the class?

I hope that students take away many things from the class, but I suppose the main thing we learn is  that writing is a craft and a practice, and we get better at it each time we go to the well.  The course is built around practice and I see my job as a facilitator or coach to prompt each student’s best writing.  The second thing I try to impress upon students is that the story, whether short or long, is the most important element.  We can work out the details as we share and critique as a group.  We work on ideas, plot, description, dialogue, point of view, and all the necessary elements of the story, but the most important thing is just going for it.

Will you address longer forms of story like the novella or novel, or mostly short stories?

I like all the forms that stories take and it is up to the students to decide which forms suit them.  Often, a short story can be a chapter or an outline of a novel or novella, so everything is fair game.  I will definitely discuss the difference between them, what is selling in the market, what editors and agents are looking for, and how to build each form and what each includes.  I’ve lined up a New York agent to do a phone interview with the class and answer questions about how the literary world has changed and what really works for readers.

What is your opinion about the central challenge that writers face?

I grew up on a farm and worked on ranches, doing the toughest labor you can imagine, but writing is still the hardest job I’ve ever done.  As a newspaper editor and reporter, freelance journalist, and now fiction writer, I think that shaping words to tell a story, entertain, educate, and elicit a visceral response in the reader is the ultimate challenge.  We want it to “sound” beautiful, have characters that jump out of the pages and become real in our minds, and tell a story that somehow matters.  In order to do all these things, we have to sit and write, usually alone.  Overcoming the obstacle of our own inertia is probably the toughest wall we have to climb, but that’s what the class is for.  We learn that we are not alone, that there are specific things we can do to break the resistance, and ways to trick the muse into action.

Anything else?

Only to say that I really love teaching this class.  We become a community of artists.  I have students who have published novels that began in this class, script writers who are producing short films and entering them into national contests, and even one student who is now teaching creative writing at a college in Missouri and continuing to write her own novels. It always gives my writing a boost and I want to be able to do that for other writers.

Letter To My Younger Self By Ana Consuelo Matiella

Dear Ana,
There you are in that photo you keep by your desk. It is five days after your mother died. You are holding Sara on your lap. You are wearing shorts. That was a long time ago, you in shorts. Your hair is long, pulled back, your eyes, washed out from weeping. Your daughter is a year and a half old and she too looks sad. Why is that? She couldn’t have known that your mother had just died. Sara, like you, is gazing straight into the lens of that old Pentax. You had a camera then and you took black and white. You are in Flagstaff, because Artu thought that after the funeral, you would want to get away from the Tucson heat.
It was July.
It was good to get away and walk in Oak Creek Canyon behind your young husband with a baby in his green back-pack. It was a comfort to see the little urchin look back to see if you were still there.
You stopped to watch the clear water wash over the river stones and a yellow swallowtail brushed your shoulder. You called it your mother’s spirit. Not dead a week, already making the rounds.
You didn’t know that for the rest of your life you would look and always find at least one large yellow swallowtail making the rounds in July.

Ana Consuelo Matiella

***
Readers–I invite you to submit such a letter to the blog this month of July. Details in previous post.

CALL for submissions to my blog Miriam’s Well on the theme LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF

CALL for submissions to my blog Miriam’s Well on the theme

LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF–

flash memoir, insight, advice

A bit off the cuff–no more than 500 words

Deadline: send to me any time in the month of July, 2016

Send in the body of the email AND as an attachment—msagan1035@aol.com

THANK YOU!!!
Feel free to share this with other writers.

xxx,

Miriam Sagan

Writers can be any age–you don’t have to be looking back over decades to do this.