Why do I like leaves?

Leaves 2

Why do I like leaves? And it’s not just any leaves. It is the red, gold, and yellow leaves of autumn. The thin, fleshy skin with translucent veins. Something about the beauty in those details just fascinates me. I have always loved fall, but it almost seems I’ve loved it from a distance. The trees in our front and back yards did change colors, but that was about all the experience I got seeing leaves change colors. My favorite pictures for backgrounds are of nature and especially of beautiful photographs of trees in autumn. It seems so enchanting. That first crisp breath of change. Of the air of “elsewhere” coming to blow away the muggy, blistering heat.


Is there anything more magical? Some might argue that the beauty of spring or the snow of winter are more magical. Birth and death. If Spring is the time of birth and renewal, of youth and beauty, and Summer is adolescence and life and action, and Winter is sleep and cold and death or hibernation; then Autumn must be the time of maturity; of knowledge, of knowing that the year and time of life is drawing to a close, and we must acknowledge what precious little time we have left.

Autumn is the time of harvest, of plenty, of nutrition and health. Such richness, such warmth of color. Autumn is the only season where the trees make a sound. In spring and summer, it is animals and insects; in winter, it is ice, snow, and wind. Autumn is the season of the trees. The trees shed their leaves and the bittersweet music of crunching foliage itself is the sound of presence, of being in the moment. Maybe fall is magical for me because I have never had to really experience the harshness of winter. South Texas is not the land of seasons.

Perhaps it is my distance from the true experience of fall that makes it so enchanting. I’ve never had to rake the yard covered in fallen leaves. I’ve never had the misfortune of stepping on hidden dog poo. Still, the romantic in me refuses to surrender to the realist. See? Autumn brings out the poet in me. Warm peppermint mochas and an evening at Barnes and Noble surrounded by books and the smell of coffee. Burning mesquite wood scenting the breeze from the few people with fireplaces taking one of the few opportunities we get to use them. The lightness of foreign air that carries the smell of other places and people before it, pushing away the heavy, dreary, weighted heat and humidity. Crunching of leaves under leather boots. Frisky dogs running and jumping across the yard. Your life’s breath manifesting and then disappearing before your eyes. Cinnamon, pumpkin, and chocolate on your tongue and in the air. The fresh tingle across your face as the chill of the wind whips past.

I never really feel at home until it’s fall. I feel like a stranger in a strange land living in this hot, tepid corner of the world. The first cold fronts that migrate all the way from Canada and finally, I feel like myself. Like all is right with the world and this is how it should be. I should feel this fresh and alive and at home all the time. If only I could carry around a jar of autumn air with me all year round, and it would never run out. When I need to feel refreshed and energized, I could just open it up and take a deep breath.

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” – George Eliot


12 Years a Slave – A landmark in United States Cultural History

I saw this film from the point he reached Michael Fassbender’s plantation onward, and it still had such an impact. It has so many layers that it would take a few entries to discuss this film to the fullest extent.


Without Ritual, Autonomous Negotiations

12 Years a Slave follows the life of Solomon Northup, an African American who lived in the North and who was not enslaved, from directly before he was kidnapped and sold as a runaway until he was reunited with his family.

Films based on true events have to be analyzed or approach in a slightly different way than (more overtly) fictional films. In the case of 12 Years a Slave, we have over a decade of time condensed into slightly more than two hours. As a result, everything is highly selective. Rather than looking at what is actually true, we have to examine what we are shown and why.

Two, somewhat overlapping, key questions, then, should guide our initial analysis.

First, does the film speak to historical truths, as supported by evidence? Are scenes realistic based on the film’s time and place?

Second, does the film legitimately force viewers…

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One-Star Amazon Reviews of Pulitzer Winners

Great info for aspiring historians.

The Junto

Portrait Of Joseph PulitzerWe talk a lot about accessibility in historical writing. Many of us worry whether the academic historical profession has much to say to a broad popular audience. It’s a pretty old form of anxiety. But what do the general public in the United States really want from their history books?

A few days ago, I decided to try an experiment. I collected all the one-star customer reviews at Amazon.com for the last twenty years of Pulitzer Prize winners in history. (No award was given in 1994, so I included books from 1995 to 2014.) I wanted to see whether I could identify common complaints. Obviously, this wouldn’t be a very scientific experiment, but at least it would be reasonably systematic—slightly better, perhaps, than relying on anecdotes from acquaintances.

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NaNoWriMo: Do you have it in you??

It is nigh on the third day of the National Novel Writing Month challenge, and I am 289 words into my “novel”. I attempted this mountain of a challenge two years ago mostly as a way to jump start my writing, and barely made any headway as I was up to my eyebrows in graduate school madness for the past two years. To be fair, my novel this year is just the continuation of the one I began two years ago. Until 2012, I never in a million years would have believed I would be interested in writing, as a hobby at least. The life of academics is the stuff of writing for work, because you have to and you want to be published, and it’s pretty much mandatory. I never thought I would write for “fun”. Me? A creative writer? Please.

And then it happened. A little over two years ago I came home from a bar with my roommate, still drunk from a night of awkwardly standing around as she and her friends played pool or danced salsa, and posted what I thought would be a ‘one-shot’ sort of thing online that I had written on a whim all in one sitting a few days before. (Whew, can I run on, or can I run on?) The next morning, a miraculous thing happened. I had my first review. It is still to this day, my favorite, longest, and most detailed review of my work. I was in awe. I could not fathom how some stranger, some faceless phantom out there in the void of the internet not only found my work, read it, liked it, but took the time to write a positive, constructive review on in. I’m not gonna lie, it was kind of a Sally Field moment. They like me! They really like me!

But then, as soon as the wonder and joy washed over me, I was hit with what is much more of my natural state of emotion: anxiety. Oh my gosh. People expect me to write more. I had not even thought of it. Can I even do that? Do I even know how? I’ve never written anything creatively in all my life. AND IT HAS TO BE GOOD. BECAUSE I AM AN OVERACHIEVER.


Come to find out, I did (do?) have a gift for writing, and I was able to formulate an actual plot with characters and goings-on and so forth. I wrote and posted steadily from about June to October. I still remember the day of my last posting, October 18th. I still don’t know if it was me running out of steam, or becoming even more overwhelmed by school and life and whatnot. Had I psyched myself out by putting too much pressure on myself? I had gone from doing this for fun, for me, on a whim, to obsessively checking my writing stats several times a day. Checking my email again and again for even the slightest review. I started to worry what those faceless phantoms in the void would think about what I wrote next. I wanted to please them. And therein lay my ruin.

I continued to receive sporadic reviews and comments over the next two years. Every so often I would get a “omg i love it! pllleeezzzeee update soon!” And I would chastise myself mentally. Bad me. Why hadn’t I updated? My public was waiting. I did have ideas for plots, but I suddenly became stuck. All along, I had really just sat down and written whatever came into my mind at that moment. The story took shape as I wrote it. There was next to no planning involved. Then, the more I wrote, and the more chapters and characters that appeared, it was absolutely necessary to at least have some kind of end game in mind. My friends who were writers would ask me, after I had drummed up the courage to show them my work, this is good, but what is your plan? Who is the villain? Where are you going with the main character? All completely legitimate questions one would ask a proper writer. But I didn’t really know.

Once I began to think about it, I realized that the writing had been so much fun for me at the time because it served as a creative outlet, an escape from the tedium of my classes and the melancholy that had enveloped me for so long. When I sat down to write I felt a rush that I had not felt in a long time, and different from the one I experienced when writing about a subject I liked for class. Then, I began to feel depressed about not finding joy in something that had made me so happy for so long out of no where, and not only that; but having that outlet become a source of anxiety and stress over time.

To round things out because it is late and tomorrow is Monday and I have to face the world with some semblance of purpose, I figured out something about myself that I had only just touched on before. I cared too much about what people thought (including myself) and was suffering from analysis paralysis. The enemy of creativity is over-thinking. Not that creative things aren’t edited or reviewed; but that one needs to find a place of serenity, a place of “flow”, or the zone, as I call it. Just let it be. Be in the present, and let go. From there, comes the flow, and before you know it, your’re in the zone. I’m going to use this self-pep talk this week as I attempt to chip away at my “novel” that is really just an experiment in ‘creative being.’ Calling it a novel makes me feel like a phony. I don’t have an extensive plot line and I have no idea how it ends, so in a way it’s sort of like real life. My writing happens in real time. And the only way to live, to be in the moment, is to let go and let flow. Hopefully that is where I will find myself at a few points this month.

Wish me luck! And good luck to all other writers and creative spirits sending a piece of their souls into the void. We’re all in it together. Just like life. Let go and let flow.

Top Ten Writing Mistakes Editors See Every Day

Confessions of a Creative Writing Teacher

Goya -The sleep of reason produces monsters (c1799) recut

In addition to writing and teaching, one of the things I do for a living is to evaluate manuscripts for their suitability for publication. I read fiction (and non-fiction) across several genres, and write comprehensive reports on the books. I try always to guide the author towards knocking his or her project into a shape that could be credibly presented to literary agents, publishers and general readers. You know how Newman and Mittelmark introduce How Not to Write a Novel by saying, ‘We are merely telling you the things that editors are too busy rejecting your novel to tell you themselves, pointing out the mistakes they recognize instantly because they see them again and again in novels they do not buy,’ well they’re right; I am one of those editors.

However good the idea behind a novel, when the author is still learning the craft of writing – like any…

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A Dream Remembered: Watching Gone with the Wind

Great insight and discussion of one of my favorite films.

Nitrate Diva

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.Why do we like Scarlett O’Hara?

Perhaps some moralizing readers will interject here, “Well, I don’t.” And there might be something to their reservations. Indeed, in his treatise The Mask of Sanity, psychologist Hervey M. Cleckly used her as a fictional example of sociopathic personality traits!

But I seriously doubt that as Scarlett raises her fist towards an amber sky and vows never to be hungry again anyone in the world wouldn’t root for her, whether knowingly or not. The enormous popularity of Gone with the Wind—and it still holds its place as the all-time domestic box office champion—rests on her slight shoulders and her even slighter sense of decency. Audiences love Scarlett, even if we’re often at a loss to explain why.

However, as I watched the saga on a new Blu-Ray, released with the 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition set, Gone with the Wind began…

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14 Signs You’re An Old Soul

Thought Catalog

Flickr / white_ribbons Flickr / white_ribbons

1. You tend to think a lot about everything. You’re always finding deeper meaning in your relationships, simple interactions with strangers, and in the world around you.

2. You enjoy solitude and use it as a time to reflect on your life and everything going on in it. You continually seek out higher understanding and are incredibly introspective about life.

3. You’ve always had maturity far beyond your years. When you were a child people commented on how mature you were and you probably enjoyed sitting at the adult’s table as opposed to the children’s table. It’s not that you couldn’t have fun being a kid, it’s just that sometimes you thought the adult conversations were far more interesting.

4. You take pleasure in simple things like drinking coffee and reading the news, having breakfast with friends, cooking a great meal, or reading a good book.


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Single Moms Club: Tyler Perry Still Has A Problem with (Black) Women

Just discovered the brilliant and enlightening Olivia A. Cole

Olivia A. Cole


Firstly: there are spoilers below. I won’t apologize for them. I’m trying to save you from seeing this film, after all, so yes, there are spoilers.

Secondly: I wish Tyler Perry would stop making movies about women.

This morning I saw Perry’s newest mark-misser, Single Moms Club, in which five single mothers from different walks of life coincidentally cross paths and become friends. You can tell that Perry thinks he put a lot of thought into the “walks of life” aspect, as the women are ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. But their lives and personalities are straight out of the one-dimensional Woman Playbook that Perry has become known for: we have the sexified Latina knockout whose cleavage is displayed prominently in every scene of the film; we have the ambitious career woman who, because she’s an ambitious career woman, is sexless and bitter; the helpless, dainty white housewife who is…

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Practice Post: Ramblings and Writers’ Block


So many thoughts are swirling through my head, I scarcely know how to begin. After four other (not quite failed) attempts at blogging, it seems WordPress has the best fit for a less-than-tech-savy history nerd with a need for a space to spout her occasional feminist, analytic, impassioned, thoughts on various subjects. You can tell by now this will probably be a blog in the ‘stream of consciousness’ style. My sentences are similar to my thoughts; more like ribbons than bullet points because they flow along, rippling and arcing, in every shape imaginable. I am already having to keep from questioning my comma usage. Perfectionism rears its ugly head, like an alligator surfacing from the water. Back to the depths with you. I will never get anything done with those eyes trained on me.

I feel this is where my current anxiety stems from. I dabble in creative writing and used it as a wonderful escape and tool for expression and self-discovery for a while. Unfortunately, my anxiety got the best of me and I began to doubt and to question. It wasn’t fun anymore if I had to please my readers or worry about their reactions to the characters or story line, or pressure myself to update at a regular pace. It’s going on two years since my last post and I still get the occasional email from a reader begging me to continue. They like me, they really, really like me. 

But if this is supposed to be an exercise of my creative self, is it inappropriate for my spirits to buoy just a little each time some anonymous voice from the void of the internet, that seems to be simultaneously teeming with energy and empty of life, sees the little bit of my soul I sent out there one night one a whim; never expecting a response, and enjoys it? I am over thinking it, I just know it. I do take pleasure in the gentle strokes my ego receives every time someone responds to my writing, but I do not crave it.

Back to the issue at hand, how do I take up where I left off? I have tried several times only to suffer analysis-paralysis. Where is the story going? I haven’t made any concrete plans yet. How can I continue when I’m not sure of the plot? Etc.

I think the secret lies in the art of “being”. 

Allow me to explain.

When I first began writing, I did so on a whim. I sat down one evening, and simply wrote exactly what came into my head and it flowed through my fingers and manifested in black and white. I did not even have to pause to think of another word to use or how the scene was set or anything. I simply wrote, and that, according to my therapist, is the art of ‘flow’. The elusive state of being where one does not question ones actions, one simply does. To Be, the state of being, achieving flow; all of these things describe a feeling I’ve experienced akin to a rush or high. I also describe it as being “in the zone” as happens when I’m researching a particular topic and my mind is buzzing with new ideas. The crux lies in putting this ‘feeling’ on paper (or Microsoft Word, as it were). He said it’s miraculous what you can do, what you can write in this particular instance, when you don’t consider your audience. The hidden message of that being that making the process about me would unblock my creativity. An even deeper meaning being that making my life, my decisions, about myself and putting myself first, will allow me to BE myself.

So I guess, as it happens with most of my thought processes once written out, that I have answered my own question. The river containing my current of thought has come full circle. We shall see if I am able to achieve this elusive, miraculous state of “being”. He said no one can be in “flow” all the time, it comes and goes for everyone. But if it’s even for a short while; just a few minutes maybe, in those moments I believe we experience our truest selves. Unfiltered, uncensored, undiluted, unabridged. I have felt it, and I know I can feel it again, if I let myself. Forget the alligator hovering below the surface; the monster of all doubt and negativity; and let the current of being, of sureness of self; let the “flow” of the current sweep him away.