Jersey City Writers at Art House Productions

imgjcwsuperTonight I will be reading short fiction written by Sarah T. Jewell as part of the Jersey City Writers and Art House Productions genre event series. The event Zap! Pow! Bam! Superheroes & Supervillains: A night of dynamic dare-do-well & dastardly deeds features work by local writers read by actors.

The evening will feature author, Keith R.A. DeCandido, American science fiction and fantasy writer, and local writers: David Boyle, Rachel Poy, Jonathan Huang, Jim DeAngelis, Beth Bentley, Stephen Weber, Mike Purfield, Sarah T. Jewell, and E.M. Kobrin/Mercedes Perez Kobrin.

Readings begin at 7pm at the Art House Productions space on Magnolia in Jersey City.

Books that fill the sky with color

IMG_MayaAngelouSky (1)Some books fill the sky with color. Some authors leave a distinct hue, their indelible mark in the space beyond the clouds. When Maya Angelou passed on May 28 in 2014, I watched a gorgeous sky(pictured above) take shape at sunset in Salinas, Ecuador. The clouds stretched across the sky and shades of pink lingered before giving way to gold then yellow then orange.

It was her sky that evening, a majestic tribute in her honor. That evening I began a Maya Angelou reading marathon of sorts. While familiar with her poetry, I hadn’t read her autobiographies. I started with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which opens with a vivid scene of a young Maya in church. She evokes feelings of displacement and not being enough through a description of an ill-fitting, faded lavender dress.

“It was old-lady-long too, but it didn’t hide my skinny legs, which had been greased with Blue Seal Vaseline and powdered with the Arkansas red clay.”

She goes on to compare her skin to the color of mud, the minister’s wife has a long yellow face, and then a green persimmon or a lemon catches her between the legs after she trips on her way to the bathroom. Angelou manages to work every color of the rainbow into her story.

By the time I finished reading all of her autobiographies, she had taken residence in our home on the beach. I felt her presence in the hammock, in the bedroom with the green decor, and at the kitchen table. We had many visitors come and go during that extended stay but the one person I felt most connected to was Angelou.

Her stories were like the clouds in the sky floating in and around me, coming and going. Now each time I think about Salinas, I can’t help but remember her life experiences. For me Salinas belongs to the ocean, the sea lions, the sunsets, and Maya Angelou.

Celebrating a growing community of writers

During a morning stretch of quiet hours, writers work on their respective projects.

During a retreat in Mount Vernon, writers work on their respective projects.

When you stumble upon fellow scribes who share a similar passion and joy for writing, hold on fast. Don’t let go of opportunities to connect and get out of your cave to practice, share, and collaborate.

In the past few years Jersey City Writers (JCW) has provided ongoing support to local writers through regular workshops, marathons, and special events. It is wonderful to be a member of a community that keeps me writing.

Take a moment to read some of JCW’s highlights from 2014.

If you haven’t found your community, keep up the search! It takes time to find the right group of people who are willing to offer constructive and honest feedback.

Where a graffiti astronaut roams

Sculpture or time machine portal for graffiti astronauts?

Sculpture or time machine portal for graffiti astronauts?

I ran into one of my characters from a short story on a walk through downtown Jersey City not too long ago. He stood still at the corner of Second and Hudson Street. Despite his steely silence, he spoke to me from the words and letters painted on his torso. This wasn’t your average José, this was a character that had once been written about in the New York Times. In that 2001 article, he is described as a “Man of Steel.” But instead of the blazon, red letter S on a superhero’s chest, this man of steel has a graffiti green letter N on one leg and a letter S on the other. A necklace of white graffiti stretches across his shoulders. I have walked by him many times in recent years but on this day in late October 2013 he took on a new shape and form—that of a graffiti astronaut.

“Graffiti astronauts,” is the title of a collection of short stories I am working on. When I saw the sculpture it was as if a character in my head had manifested on the street before me sheathed in metal.

The "Longshoreman," sculpture in Jersey City.

The “Longshoreman,” sculpture in Jersey City.

“This is what a graffiti astronaut looks like,” I thought.

When I took a closer look, however, I noticed that artist Steve Singer had long ago named the sculpture “Longshoreman.” Commissioned by Candlewood Hotel and Suites, the piece was installed Oct. 26, 2001. The sculpture represents Jersey City’s past when long shoremen worked the waterfront on tugboats and ships that lined up at the moorings. This was during the industrial and manufacturing age in the 19th and 20th centuries when many railroads ended at the Jersey City waterfront and factories dominated the landscape.

I wasn’t around for the Jersey City of that time, but when I walk along the waterfront through various neighborhoods, I pick up on clues—like this sculpture—that offer glimpses into what once was.

Then again, this could be a TARDIS disguised as a sculpture that serves as a time and space travel machine for graffiti astronauts. That would be awesome!

Resolve to read more fiction

2013 was the first year without my cat Puddy. He left us in 2012 after sixteen years.

2013 was the first year without my cat Puddy. He left us in 2012 after sixteen years.

Reading fiction is good for you. At least according to research conducted by psychologists at the New School of Social Research. While you aren’t likely to lose 10 pounds or eat fewer sweets by reading fiction, apparently you will become a better person and be more empathetic towards others.

According to an article published in the Guardian, psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, “proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships.” Their findings were published in the journal, Science, last October.

Note the emphasis on literary fiction, however. You won’t deepen your ability to understand others by reading any old book – that romance novel just won’t do. The participants in the study were given Anton Chekov and Téa Obreht.

While I need little convincing on the benefits of reading literature, I do resolve to read more fiction this year. I read many essays, articles, and news stories in 2013 that cluttered my brain with headlines and rather exhausted the mind. Letting go of digesting news isn’t easy, however, especially as someone who worked as a beat reporter.

I do intend to find more time to read fiction by spending less time on Facebook, something that New York Times op ed columnist Frank Bruni recently suggested.

In his column, he said, “It feels at times as if contemplation has given way to expectoration, with speed overtaking sense and nuance exiting the equation.”

In 2014, I’d like to allow my mind to meander, to explore, to rest in the space created by untold details in a story rather than be confined to scanning a newsfeed hunting for the next image or post to comment on or like.

I’m going to log off and delve into “Love,” by Toni Morrison.

Wish you were here, and here, and here…

View of Costanza, Dominican Republic

View of Costanza, Dominican Republic

How many words can you fit on the back of a postcard? Given that the address, stamp, and printed text take up space, you may just fit 25 to 30 words in the narrow white square on the left, and that’s if you write in a tame-sized cursive. Despite the brevity of the handwritten note on a traditional postcard, the image on the front offers a context for the recipient whether it portrays random people sunbathing on the beach in Venice, Fla. or a panoramic view of Montreal.

The postcard leaves out a lot of details – never meant to reveal the true nature of an experience – it offers no more than a snapshot. And who is to say that the snapshot isn’t pure fiction? Perhaps, it conveys an imagined sense of what we hoped a trip would be like for those back home but not what really took place. There wasn’t a postcard for the time I was knocked over by a huge wave at Point Pleasant only to surface without my bikini top or for the time I was bedridden for days from food poisoning in Costanza, Dom.

For many, the white dialog box on Facebook and Twitter has replaced the postcard tradition. Gone is the lone, unknown surfer catching a wave. Now, it’s you, caught on camera, white water rafting down a turbulent river. The expressed sentiment, “wish you were here,” has been replaced with, “look at me.” Despite the fact that you aren’t visualizing all 432 friends or followers as you trek up Machu Picchu they end up going along for the ride once you start uploading images step by step. But what do you say to all those people? “Thinking of you,” doesn’t seem plausible.

Instead you combine images and text to weave together a narrative. You leave footprints of text that form an online trail or tale rather – a story for the friend or follower – your very own postcard fiction.