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I will be offering an online creative writing workshop this May. Hope you will be able to join us! Here are the details:

Memoir Writing Workshop (Prose & Poetry)

In this workshop we will discuss the meaning of memoir, how to choose a moment in your history when your life shifted in some way and how to best present it in an essay or poem.  

You will write and workshop your original work with published writing teacher Chloé Miller for two weeks. She will present writing prompts and exercises, links to short online readings and lead discussions around your work. You will receive individual feedback from her on your two longer assignments. Through group peer editing sessions, you will hone your editing abilities and receive additional feedback on your work.

Short assignments will be posted every day. Your longer assignments will be due each Friday. It is suggested that you spend 30 – 60 minutes per day on the class. No assignments will be given over the weekend, although the lively discussion and writing will continue.   

All levels welcome; beginners encouraged.

The class will be held for two weeks from Monday, May 17 – Friday, May 28. Class enrollment is limited to ten adult students. It will be held in a private Google group that will be available 24/7. With a free Gmail account, you will be ready to start.

The cost is $200.00 payable by check. Chloé’s current and previous private writing students receive a 10% discount. To register, email Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com. 

For daily writing tips, please visit Chloé’s writing blog.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email: Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

For more information on Chloé:

Chloé Yelena Miller has an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Italian language and literature from Smith College.

She has taught writing at a number of places, such as Fairleigh Dickinson University, NJ; Northampton Community College, PA; Hudson County Community College, NJ; Maplewood South Orange Adult School, NJ; Recreation and Education, MI and presented at a number of writing conferences, such as The Association of Writers and Writing Programs; Sarah Lawrence College’s Conference Women’s Stories, Women’s Lives; Rochester Writers’ Conference in Michigan; Ann Arbor Book Festival’s Writer’s Conference; Writer’s Center of Indiana’s Conference; and Winter Wheat: The Mid-American Review Festival of Writing.                    

Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Cortland Review, Narrative Magazine, Alimentum, Sink Review, Storyscape and Lumina, among others. She currently reads poetry for The Literary Review and was previously an editor for Portal Del Sol and Lumina.

Her writing was a finalist for the Narrative Magazine’s Poetry Contest and the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. She has been a resident at the Vermont Studio Center, A Room of Her Own’s Retreat in New Mexico and Summer Literary Seminar’s program in Prague.

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Most of us don’t have the luxury of doing something obviously creative every day. I wish I had time to write and edit poems, read poems and even watercolor and cook new dishes every day. Of course, there are errands to run, laundry to do and paying work to finish.

One of my resolutions for the new year is to really slow down and make time for what is not only important, but vital to living a good life. I want to *find* the time to do these things if not every day, then every week. 

Taking an extra moment to do something might even allow us all to do less creative things more creatively. You can take a new road to work and explore your neighborhood more. Look around at your surroundings more carefully. Buy different vegetables in the Farmer’s Market and try out a new recipe. Spend an extra minute writing an email so that it isn’t a list of speedy facts, but rather a thoughtful progression of words.

My husband and I enjoyed making many of our holiday gifts this year. We talked about what we wanted to do, made them and then wrapped them together. With a pile of markers, we were able to personalize what could have been a present wrapped by a store clerk who never met the receiver.

I recently bought a travel watercolor kit and watercolor postcard paper. I’m fairly certain that my work would only make a mother proud, but I’m slowly improving and I feel peaceful when I experiment with the colors and painting new shapes. It is important to find this space for ourselves.

I really believe that we will all be more productive if we take advantage of moments here and there to relax and recharge.

What will you do to be more creative in 2010?

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Isn’t there a saying that laughter is the best medicine? In a very unscientific way, I declare it the truth.

Sometimes we take ourselves entirely too seriously. My husband and I laugh often. We can already laugh about the wedding. Like how long it took us to plan the drinks list. We carefully named some drinks after friends in the wedding party. We discovered – after the wedding – that we’d misspelled the last name of the Chief Wonderful Woman (laughing, but still sorry!) We can laugh at the venue’s bad jokes about putting the “boys” in the bank vault before the wedding. We can laugh that the venue put a waitress in charge of me when the ceremony started. She actually said to me, “I’m in charge of making sure you actually walk down the aisle and don’t run away.” Earlier, we laughed about how our first date was on April Fool’s Day three and a half years ago.

We are even allowed to giggle at the seriousness of this union. Why not? Why not laugh at what is expected of us and what we decide to actually do?  Someone recently told me that when she first moved in with her husband, she couldn’t stand how messy he was. He left his dirty socks all over the apartment. After endless conversations and some fights, she decided to laugh about it. She took out her camera and photographed all the funny places the socks ended up – from the bathroom to the kitchen counter. She and her husband had a hearty laugh about it and then compromised about how to keep their home. 

Gregory Corso’s poem Marriage, which I briefly discuss in yesterday’s post  makes me laugh. You can read the poem here. His second stanza made me giggle in the library chair:

When she introduces me to her parents 
back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie, 
should I sit knees together on their 3rd degree sofa 
and not ask Where’s the bathroom? 
How else to feel other than I am, 
often thinking Flash Gordon soap– 
O how terrible it must be for a young man 
seated before a family and the family thinking 
We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou! 
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living? 
Should I tell them? Would they like me then? 
Say All right get married, we’re losing a daughter 
but we’re gaining a son– 
And should I then ask Where’s the bathroom?

We take ourselves so damn seriously, from the courtship to the wedding vows. I think we all know, deep down, that we are in love when we find someone who can make us laugh.

In our vows, my husband and I named things that the other represents for us. It turns out I am his scotch and he is my zucchini flower. We smiled when we said it and some of the guests laughed with surprise. 

In all humor there is some seriousness. Scotch is my husband’s favorite drink and he takes it seriously. I have never turned down a fried zucchini flower, either made by distant relatives in Italy or my mother in New Jersey. We meant what we said.

A writer friend asked me recently why I haven’t written a blog post about what it means to be married. What it feels like on the other side. I think I don’t entirely know yet. We are happy to be married, relieved to no longer be wedding planning and generally just enjoying ourselves. 

This is the life!

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Alli's weddingYou might remember Alli Shaloum Brydon from a guest post about an interfaith and intercultural wedding. She recently posted a poem on her blog that she wrote after her first date with her husband. The poem is titled, “Agnostic First Date” and was posted on their one year anniversary. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Stay for a while on the blog she shares with her husband, Ed, to take a look at his amazing photography.

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While there are only four days left before the wedding (and we fly to New Jersey tomorrow), I’m taking a break from all-things-wedding to present “Family History: Ideas for Collecting & Assembling” at the University of Michigan’s Work/Life Resource Center’s 4th annual event on work/life issues. The title of this year’s conference is Connecting the Dots.

I was contacted by UM’s HR department after someone read the description of a similar class offered at Rec & Ed and one presented at the Ann Arbor Book Festival last May. You never know what opportunities will lead to other ones.

A description of the workshop:

Family History: Ideas for Collecting and Assembling Researching and writing your family history doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In this session, learn tips on how to gather information and brainstorm ideas before translating the stories and research into a form that you can share with family members.

The idea for this workshop, as well as earlier ones and a memoir writing class I taught in NJ a few years ago, came out of a family history project that my mother and I completed together. Continuing the work of her late sister, my mother researched documents about our family’s emigration from southern Italian (Sala Consilina) to northern NJ in the late 1800’s. My mother, a professional photographer, and I visited the town a number of times and collected not only more documents pertaining to the family, but also an oral history. Our relatives there were incredibly generous in sharing their stories.

We paired her photographs with my narrative poems re-telling the family’s history. The result is a manuscript entitled, “Cent’Anni.” The manuscript as a whole is still looking for a publisher, but individual poems have been published. If you are interested, here is one that is available online:

“Teresa serves dinner at 20:00” Conte: Journal of Narrative Writing (Dec. 2006)

I loved collecting oral history and crafting poems out of those voices and so I decided to begin Word Arrangement, a personalized poem company. And that’s how this blog and venture was born.   

I can’t wait – only 4 days left! – to becoming a family with my new husband.

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I first met Alli at Sarah Lawrence College, where we were studying poetry.  A year or two later, I ran into her and her boyfriend at a poetry reading in New York City. I remember looking at their smiles, seeing how they were holding hands and thinking, “these two happy lovebirds are going to get married one day!” And they did.

Here is the story of a “Jewish girl from Long Island” and a “British man with a Christian upbringing” getting married and discovering how differences can be similarities. I think you’ll particularly love the readings they chose and the vows they wrote themselves.

Thanks for sharing, Alli!

***

Alli & Ed at their wedding 

Ed and I are not two people who you’d say “stand on ceremony.” We are not terribly traditional. Our backgrounds could easily have pigeonholed us as such—me, a Jewish girl from Long Island, and he, a British man with a Christian upbringing—but put us together and we’re a pair of odd ducks. Take, for example, our engagement: he had no ring in hand and I had a mouth full of lox and bagel when we decided, at our dining table, one Saturday morning in late August 2007, to get hitched (not to mention I actually had gotten tipsy and proposed to him the night before!). We immediately decided that the person to officiate our ceremony would be a neutral, non-religious, justice-of-the-peace type. Heck, what about having one of our friends ordained for the occasion? Let’s throw in some henna, recite the whole thing in iambic pentameter, hire a flutist, and so on. (I’m actually joking about almost all of these things.)

About a week later, my whole family was helping my sister move into her first apartment, in Brooklyn. Sometime in between laps to her 3rd floor walkup apartment, my father said to me, “So, you’re going to have a rabbi.” Something in his voice made me realize that was not a question. “Uh…” I stammered, searching my fiancée’s face for help. My dad explained to me that there were no options in this situation; we would have a rabbi marry us. Strange, I thought, we’re not even a religious family. I believe his next words were, “He can be a Hare Krishna for all I care, but we will get someone who is called rabbi.”

And then Ed, god love him, piped in. “Well, then we’ll have to have someone to represent my side.”

Thus began our quest. Both of us, while atraditional, love our families completely. We wanted everybody to be happy (also remember, this was the beginning of our engagement), and my father rarely makes absolute requests like that.

We thought back to a wedding we went to in 2005, for our friends Sherrill and David. They were also an interfaith, international couple (Sherrill is a friend of mine from elementary school, David was born in Brazil and moved to New York when he was a teenager). Their rabbi, we remembered, gave a beautiful ceremony, blending religions and languages—he delivered his words in English, Spanish, and Hebrew. The sermon was not overly religious, and was careful to include both families, whatever their beliefs. I got his phone number and called right away. Rabbi Frank, I learned, was raised in an Italian interfaith family; his father was Catholic and his mother was Jewish. He had decided, after learning much about both religions, to explore his Jewish side and become a rabbi. This was after teaching high school Spanish and Italian for over 30 years. He called himself a “humanistic rabbi.”

Rabbi Frank sounded like the one for us! I booked an appointment for us to meet him.  Our meeting went smoothly as he asked us questions about our relationship, what we wanted out of life and marriage, and how we envisioned our ceremony. He also made one of the most generous offers I’ve ever received: that he would not only be our rabbi for the wedding, but through life, as we would indeed have questions in the future about how to incorporate religion into our family.

We told him that we were looking for another officiant, one who could represent Ed’s upbringing, and asked if he worked with anyone regularly to provide this service. He said he didn’t, and actually told us a couple of horror stories about working with various priests and ministers who, let’s say, didn’t see eye-to-eye with him on his humanistic way of officiating weddings.

So our next order of business was to find a Catholic priest who a) would perform a wedding ceremony outside the church, and b) one who would perform an interfaith ceremony at all. I had awful visions of didactic priests who would malign me on my wedding day, or worse, reprimand Ed in front of our guests that he was committing a sin by marrying me. We did internet searches and wracked our brains for a few weeks. One afternoon, Ed was chatting on the phone with his mum about our dilemma when she asked him a question that should have been obvious to us: “Why don’t you just ask your cousin Michael, the vicar, to marry you?”

DUH!

Cousin Michael is an Anglican Reverend in Sussex, England, and we should have thought of him right away, except for this: Ed was raised Catholic by his Irish mum and was only thinking he’d have to find a Catholic priest. Ed asked Michael if he would do us the honor, and he graciously accepted. Problem solved!

Or…was it?

There was the new problem of having a rabbi and a reverend who lived 3,000 miles apart try to coordinate the particulars of a complicated wedding ceremony. We spoke with both of them extensively about the traditions of both faiths, what was the usual order of events, which religion held which parts of the ceremony most dear, and many other things. Apparently, in the Jewish faith the rings are the most important part of a marriage ceremony, and in Christianity it’s the vows. We decided we’d definitely incorporate some traditional Jewish elements: we’d drink wine from the same glass, get married under a chuppah (canopy), and Ed would stomp on the glass (what Rabbi Frank stated was “the breaking down of barriers” and also symbolic of “happiness as abundant as the number of pieces of glass and problems that are as easily shattered.”). On Rev. Michael’s end, he’d deliver the all-important declarations and vows.

It was wonderful getting to know both clergymen through phone and email, especially Michael as he would soon be my cousin, too. This also gave us the freedom to work outside the boundaries of a typical Jewish or Christian wedding. We would get to have our wacky ceremony after all!

We also knew that we wanted secular readings, rather than religious ones. Since I am a poet, and Ed is also a fan of good literature, we asked our sisters to choose literary readings they would perform at the ceremony. They both chose gorgeous pieces, which almost made me cry when they read them on our wedding day.  Tami, my sister, read “Sonnet #17” from Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets. Lavinia, Ed’s sister, read “Marriage” from The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.

So after several months of planning, and one very funny and delicious lunch meeting between our families and both clergymen the day before our wedding, we were all set. Oh! But I’m forgetting the most important thing: our vows.

We decided since we were floating in and out of the boundaries of tradition, we’d write our own vows based on the traditional ones and memorize them for our wedding day. I was a little reluctant to share them with all of you, since they’re very personal. But considering I already declared these words in front of almost 200 people, here they are:

Alli/Ed, I love you with all of my being, and I vow to respect you as my wife/husband, share with you as my equal, and honor our marriage.

I will be generous with my happiness and laughter, celebrate your accomplishments, and treasure our life together.

I pledge to honor your freedom and individuality.

I promise to protect, comfort, and support you. I will always be your friend.

 

Let us strive for excitement, adventure, and passion in everything we do.

 

After we said these words to each other with no trace of hesitation or faltering, we exchanged rings, shared wine from the same glass, received the final blessings, Ed smashed the glass into a thousand pieces, and we were pronounced Mr. Brydon and Mrs. Shaloum-Brydon…

…your typically atypical husband and wife.

***

Alli Shaloum-Brydon is a children’s book editor and poet. She meets fabulous, creative people all over the place, but thinks her new husband is the most interesting person she knows.

 

 

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Poetry gets a bad rep. Folks moan about their terrible high school reading assignments in thin-papered books.

 

Sure, there is a lot of poetry that you wouldn’t want at your wedding. From cliché greeting card sentiments to hard to understand, badly translated poetry. But there is some great work out there that you can both enjoy and perhaps use to inspire aspects of your wedding and relationship.

 

First, I want to prove to you that poetry can be fun. I spent two years at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY studying for my MFA. It was the best two years of my life because it was a gift to have the time to write poetry and be surrounded by so many liked minded writers.

 

Reading at Busboys and Poets in DC

Reading at Busboys and Poets in DC

 

There, I met poet Jee Leong Koh. He is a more formal poet than I am, but he addresses some spicy themes and uses thoughtful humor in his poetry. Check out his blog: http://jeeleong.blogspot.com/

 

Poetry is meant to be read and heard, and sometimes performed, by real, live poets. You can hear poetry readings online at a lot of sites. Here are two great archives:

http://poets.org/page.php/prmID/361

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/audio.html

 

Poetry is a space for careful thought, consideration and exploration of an otherwise chaotic world. Sometimes questions are answered, sometimes they are simply posed. Poetry lives by being read and shared. I hope you’ll consider reading some.

 

Advice:

If you are interested in having more familiar poems at your wedding, check out these great sites:

 

Poets.org, from the Academy of American poets, has a list of famous poems about weddings:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5857

 

The Offbeat bride (who isn’t?), has a list of “Awesome wedding readings for bad-ass couples”:

http://offbeatbride.com/2008/07/wedding-readings#more-859

 

The Indiebride (which doesn’t seem to have new posts anymore), has some readings listed, too:

http://kvetch.indiebride.com/index.php?t=msg&th=2271&prevloaded=1&rid=0&S=95c44beba3d13f0d88f915d1a8ffdbb9&start=0

 

Other suggestions? Use the “Comments” section freely.

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