Sunday, June 28, 2020

Lessons from The Hunger Games

I just finished reading A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, author of the The Hunger Games. This prequel is as gut-punching and well written as the rest of the series, but is especially hard to read because of what Snow grows up to become. The book is set in that pivotal moment when his choices tip his life on a decidedly evil path. Part of this is the way he is built-- narcissism and sociopathy are in his personality-- part of it is his circumstances and part of it is the ideology he is exposed to. It's a disturbing look inside the mind of a young man destined to murder in the name of law and order.

Which brings me to the world we are living in today. It strikes me that The Hunger Games series has many lessons that we can apply to understand the social unrest across the country right now. Systematic racism is often hard for white Americans to understand, but the Hunger Games and the way the Districts are treated by the Capital offers as a parable for what Black Americans experience at the hands of U.S. police in many areas today.

The Districts in The Hunger Games are essentially treated as occupied territories-- the Peacekeepers come from the Capital and a few favored Districts to police people they see as lesser than them and deserving of their circumstances. Just as we see white suburban Americans policing urban Black neighborhoods and coming into those neighborhoods with suspicion and judgement.

In The Hunger Games the laws themselves were unjust and unjustly applied, and often the punishments were far more severe than the crimes would appear to merit. In the United States today the War on Drugs has resulted in mandatory sentencing that far exceeds what we might consider fair for relatively small crimes. And many Americans are no longer convinced that our drug laws are just to begin with.

In our society, when an unarmed Black man is hurt or murdered by police officers some will say that if that man broke the law than the police were not necessarily to blame for the outcome. Yet, in the Hunger Games we see Gail being whipped and though we know he broke the law by hunting a turkey and trying to sell it we are on his side. We can see that the law is unjust, unjustly applied and that the punishment far exceeds the severity of the crime. This same set of circumstances applies to many young Black men who have been killed by police today and many others who are killed were actually innocent.

The Hunger Games takes white people and puts them into Districts and we see them for what they are-- victims of state sponsored terror. We need to put aside racist blinders and understand that Black Americans are experiencing the same treatment here in our country and do all that we can to stop it.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Teeter-totter

The balance falls here from one side to the other. I fill up, find joy, an optimistic moment and you fall into the deep place where all is not well. 

I fall and there you go bouncing up. Is it that we know we can’t make it with both of us down there at once? Or is it something else creating the distance and pulling us up and down on different schedules? 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Never check the news first thing in the morning

Made the mistake of checking my news app first thing this morning,
And the earthquake on top of the tornadoes isn’t making the virus less upsetting. 
I think I’ll spend some time today pretending the president and the protestors and the economy are all a dream. 
Who knows? Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and have a whole new reality where we look like Canada and act like it, too, but it’s still warmer here, but not too warm because we solved climate change and found a vaccine in the same day. 
It could happen, right? 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

It’s good to have goals

I set goals for myself. 
Write two chapters a week. 
Order my groceries a week in advance. 
Bake cookies today. 
Don’t eat cookies today. 
Don’t eat chocolate chips straight out of the bad today. 
Take a walk. 
Do my physical therapy. 
Send the email. 

When I don’t meet the goal I get angry with myself. I can’t stand people who don’t do what they say they will do. Which means I can’t stand myself. 

So no cookies today. I’ve got to be able to look myself in the mirror tonight. 

I set goals for myself. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

A morning lull

Morning quiet, so loud it echoed through the house still at rest,
I am the only eyes fluttered awake with the first sun, listening to a low hum from somewhere outside our walls,
The skies chirp and a car revs its engine, but the children sleep on, as teens do only hours after falling asleep. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

A moment in time

Fleetwood Mac signs Rhiannon, and I’m telling my daughter how I almost named her that,
The sky out the window is blue and the sunshine has us both happier than normal,
She’s got a new toy to learn to use and I’m cross-legged on the carpet of our craft room,
Which is now also my make-shift office and I’m so much more content than I’ve been all day. 

Growing things in the time of Covid

We only have two live plants in this house and they both remind me of lost people. 

That the only two living things in this house outside the humans are wrapped together with death and loss is a strange irony.

There is the peace lily in all it's glory, great green fans rising up and over it's pot, occasional crunchy brown leaves screaming that we still haven't found the exact right spot to put it. 

My husband's co-workers sent it to him upon hearing of the loss of his mother. 

She was a strong, kind, funny and enduring woman who loved her son so well that he carries the imprint of that love with him into every situation he faces. 

As that plant grows it reminds me of her, but also of the loss of her.

The only other plant to survive my black thumb is a small green, and sometimes red, holiday plant. We placed it in a yellow bowl in the window on the day our friend gave it to us. 

His beautiful wife had left this world not long before and that little plant is wrapped up in the missing her and in the way that she endures.

Now, in the time of Covid, when I rarely leave my house I notice these plants so much more often and inevitably when I do I remember two women who left imprints on my soul, and I mourn them and I ponder why we stay home now-- so as not to create more loss.

Falling again

This morning I fell into that pit again,
The one where no one likes you and what’s the point and what kind of world is it?
And the walls are piled high with news, and maybe some of it is fake,
But mostly it’s real and insurmountable,
And even the facts become escalator steps running in the wrong direction. 

And like any good dreamer of nightmares or some such, 
I know I have to wait until I wake up again to maybe be standing by the edge again,
Reminding myself that the edge is nice,
There’s that apple tree providing shade and food, There’s that warm patch of green grass to lie in and if you look up you could be anywhere wonderful with skies that blue. 
Anyway, the pit is getting smaller, isn’t it?
Surely, I won’t end up in there again tomorrow. 
Who could waste time worrying about that on such a nice day?

Review: Bright and Beautiful Cozy Mystery

Note: I received an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Mystery-solving priest Alma is at it again in this second installment of a spiritual LBTQ cozy mystery series.

In this book Alma struggles with who to trust in her personal and professional lives after the Bishop of the church gives her a license to meddle in a murder investigation. The dead woman is a famous poet murdered on church grounds the night before her wedding and played out in her wedding dress in the middle of the labyrinth. She was to marry another priest's brother the next day.

As Alma sorts through her feelings toward two of her old flames, she once again solves the crime, while putting herself in grave danger along the way.

Alma is a complex character and her inner dialogue is endearing and spiritual at the same time. This book deals with some of the struggled bi-sexual people have with both the LGBT and straight communities. The book also focuses on Alma's place between two racial identities and the differences between classes in large urban cities.

Even with all this going on the book does a great job captivating you with the story and the mystery moves at a pretty good pace as Alma puts the clues together. I got a little tired of hearing Alma pine for Naomi, who just doesn't seem that great to me, while throwing away Cesar who seems to be someone who actually cares for her. I hope in the next book Alma can move on to someone new who isn't as annoying.

All in all it's a great read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good cozy mystery with a big city twist.

You can make this book you're own here: https://www.amazon.com/Bright-Beautiful-Reverend-Alma-Mystery-ebook/dp/B085KXWB7L/

book cover of Bright & Beautiful

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The power of tea cookies to heal the soul

The small pink box speaks of a simpler time,
Tiny sweet shortbread beckons,
Chocolate piping promises a few moments of relief from the people who pull you or the day that threatens to break you,
And just one will do. 

Until the next one calls out and promises more and better, salvation in sprinkles and nuts,
Just another one will do the trick and leave you whole and satisfied and perhaps ready for a cup of calming tea or at least a spoonful of hope. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Unplanned Scenes

I'm not sure where this scene is going. Why is it here? I'm in that first draft phase where my outline seems to be failing me and I keep ending up in places I didn't expect, didn't plan for and my characters, frankly, don't have what they need to be in these places.

This novel is a sticky web that doesn't want to be woven some days. My editor says every scene must be there for a reason. Every scene must lead clearly to the next one. But at the moment I'm writing a collection of snapshots that are moving vaguely toward the end of a summer and very precisely toward the end of innocence.

It's not an easy path to pave with fictional characters or real life. It's that first life altering disappointment, when you find out that no one is perfect, that your parents are failing and your friends are failing and you are failing because failing is the only way to actually live. That's what I'm trying to capture with a sea of words in a way that grabs hold of your soul, crushes it, resurrects it and gives you enough hope to go on wanting to try.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Research

Hours scrolling through old newspaper articles
And dissertations 
How did someone decide to write about this obscure thing?
This taking forever
And google has failed me

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The perfect photo

The perfect photo 
Is taken from the front
Make-up over that spot on my right cheek
Hair curled
Eyes just so
Angle from above, please. 

And I will hate it
Until ten years from now I come across it
And realize I looked beautiful
Back then 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

She

She edges into the room, bit-by-bit,
And sometimes you don’t even see her,
But when you do,
She disappears just as quickly. 

She is the ninja on the wind,
The noise at the door that is gone,
By the time you get there. 
She’s always one step ahead, barely there. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Plotting a novel when life is stranger than a novel

That’s not realistic, they say,
You wouldn’t shut everything down,
Maybe some things, but not all of it. 

You should rethink that plot point. 
People just aren’t going to buy it. 
And cloth masks in the grocery store, no. 
No one is going to do that. 

Maybe a small scale thing. 
Don’t be overly dramatic. 
And people need to be fighting somehow. 
Sitting at home is super boring. 

I don’t think I could plot this reality 
And have anyone call it a believable novel. 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Hot tea and comfort reads

Surviving a pandemic requires two things:

Hot Tea
To calm the mind and warm the heart
African Solstice is preferred. 

Comfort Reads 
To disappear into a guaranteed happy ending
Books I’ve read before are preferred. 

Check out this list of Comfort Reads and make your own at home!

Fangirl
Harry Potter
Mr. And Mrs. Bo Jo Jones
In The Unlikely Event
On The Come Up
Simon Vs. The Homosapien Agenda
A Crooked Kind of Perfect
Twilight
Hunger Games
Anything by David Sedaris 
Most Ardently 
Merry March Mysteries 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Water

Water flows and cascades,
Cleansing and calming me,
And clearing a path to be free. 

Water settles and smooths,
Moving from glass to tongue,
And fueling me for the day to come. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

So busy in a slow life

The schedule is packed but we never go anywhere, so many things to do just in this house: emails, Zoom, social distancing virtual happy hours, dinner to cook, bathrooms to clean and books that won’t write themselves. 

Social media requires attention, as do our dying plants and the garage that suddenly can’t go another day looking such a wreck,
Research must be done, online shopping has begun. If I had a day planner it would be full or all the things I do now that I have no where else to go! 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Craft life

Pencils, cardstock, scissors, glue sticks, shredded paper in a bag,
Pastels, paints, felt, envelopes and colored pencils in a box, 

What will they become when their transformation, reformation, amalgamation is complete? 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The shortest commute

The alarm goes off thirty minutes before I must be in my chair on a conference call,
That’s ten minutes to shower, ten to get dressed and ten to eat,
Sometimes I just eat later. 

My commute from work in my office to the kitchen is oddly short,
Thus the number of chocolate chips consumed per day has gone up and up. 




Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Books, and podcasts and real friends

If I'm going to get through this being home all the time,
endless hours in front of computer screens, noticing that it's long past time I changed these drapes and cleaned this carpet and sorted through all the things we have for no apparent reason,
I'm going to need books and podcasts and real friends,
the kinds of books that transport me to some other world where the CIA is just a backdrop for a steamy love story and the end is guaranteed to be happy even if it leaves just enough unsolved to bring me back for the next one,
and, please, I need the podcasts where authors talk about what they cook, and how they write, and the way characters show up and poke at your insides until you bleed them out onto the page and then sometimes even then they aren't fully satisfied and they keep pushing until they burst out of you in prose you can actually be proud of, at least until you reread it tomorrow,
And I'm looking at you friend, the one who takes my phone call and tells me something that gets me laughing so hard that I forget why we aren't seeing each other in real life any more,
virtual happy hours, Saturday mornings on zoom, stolen moments laying in bed while your kids pop into your room and mine stays upstairs being sixteen and pretending she isn't related to me.
If I'm going to get through this being home all the time,
I"m going to need books, and podcasts and real friends.
But not necessarily in that order.



Monday, March 30, 2020

Hot tea in the morning

My mug steams into the cool morning air,
Despite the grey skies birds chirp somewhere,
My tea calls itself African Solstice and with every sip I am almost somewhere warmer and more magical. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sunday sunshine

Blue skies, the wind shifts tree branches back and forth across white clouds, 
And even though the world is strange and wrong in so many ways just now,
the sunshine washes it all away and for a moment it’s warm and cheerful,
And I wonder if anybody ever gets as low in California as we do here,
Where the is sun is an absentee parent who only comes by every couple of weeks to try to be the fun one,
And we forgive her every time because it’s all so beautiful while she’s there. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Saturday morning

The house is the kind of quiet that only happens when every other inhabitant is asleep,
The stillness almost meets me like a friend, calming somehow,
The mute light dripping in through the window is tempered by a grey sky,
And I am revelling in the moment, solitude wrapping me in a hearty embrace. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Friday’s Choices

Read the news and stagger under the weight of it, can’t you feel it pressing against your chest?
Is that panic or a symptom?
In the middle of the night I can’t sort between the two.

OR

Ignore the outside world. Focus on my work, my peanut butter sandwich, a walk in the warmth with a blue sky over head. 
What’s going on out there?
In soft daylight maybe it doesn’t matter. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Thursday’s crafts

Pencils, markers and a stack of cardstock,
Strewn across a kitchen table
Glitter, glue and scissors with jewels on the handle, 
Wait to be turned into creations,

Let’s build a world, a window to any where but here,
And we can fly there on paper mache wings, held together with twine and wishes 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Wednesday: Birthday in Quarentine

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1ZpNbtG26-uGBRHdTDTwz7J2a6096wsD3The party is small but mighty
Four around a lemon cake
Drenched in lemonade
And hopes for better birthdays to come

Sweet sixteen with no BMV to take a driving test, or gaggle of friends to sleepover, has a an odd odor to it that the make shift decorations can’t fully cover up

But she smiles and she is thankful we are together,
And we play that game that she loved when she was six,
And there is sunlight pouring in the window 
And for a moment it’s just a really good birthday and that’s something 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Tuesday: A Cleaning Poem

I lather my hands with lavender soap,
like today is any normal clean, smart day.
We don't worry about new odd germs, nope,
nothing to see, it's just our usual way. 

Haven't I always wiped off my door knobs, 
polishing the metal to make it gleam?
And don't get me started on my key fobs,
which are never as easy as they seem. 

Yes, I washed my shirt after going to the store,
but that's super normal, I always do.
It's all so routine, and even a bore.
Say it enough I can make it be true. 

I scour and sanitize just for the fun,
Not thinking about the battle to be won. 



Monday, March 23, 2020

A Monday Poem

An etched purple sky greets me as I settle down at my desk
What was once a community activity is a solitary pursuit
In the hours to come we will open up the phone lines and shout across the distance
But now as birds chirp outside my window, it's just me and the glowing white screen

So on this brewing Monday morning I type in passwords and connect systems
And I focus on my gratitude that I can do this thing from this place when so many can't

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Poem: Sunday Morning

The sun criss-crosses my living room floor, 
changing the carpet from brown to gold,
the way it shifts my perspective, somehow.

Some Spanish words sung with heart over a moaning guitar,
making their way from the other side of the house,
and I write my own meaning as I cannot translate more than the feeling.

Someone is baking, and the sweet aroma is in the air,
filling me up with yearning for cookies that melt in my mouth,
the way they take me back to a childhood kitchen long since lost.

Three prints sit side-by-side over our mantel bringing vibrant women to life,
working in ancient times, printed and inked from a holy place,
and I find my own symbols in them, letting the story shift to meet me where I am.

Jenna Grinstead
Copywrite 2020

Poetry in the time of Covid-19

As we all adjust to new schedules, worries and lives in the wake of this pandemic, I find myself thinking a lot about the power of poetry. I'm reading more poetry by inspiring writers like Maggie Smith and Maya Angelou and e.e. Cummings. 

I've always loved to write poems, though I'm not the best at understanding and following all of the rules that go along with some forms of poetry. But I also know that poetry can be what we make it-- and it can free our souls when despair threatens to take them over. 

So, for the balance of this pandemic I plan to post a poem each day with the intent of bringing some more love and understanding into the world. 

If you'd like to add your poems to the comments or email them to me at jennagrinstead@gmail.com, I'd love to feature your work in this forum, as well. 

Let's work together to bring a little more connection to the world through poetry in this trying times. 


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Doing our part for the good of everyone...

The rise of a global pandemic has a way of slowing life down. Here in Ohio our Governor has closed schools for three weeks, many businesses are shifting to work from home or closing all together and evening and weekend activities are disappearing faster than you can say "Covid-19".

Since my mom and step-dad are both immune compromised I'm especially glad to see the swift action our leaders are taking to try to flatten out the curve for who will get this virus and when. All that being said, it's an interesting time to be a writer.

The hours spent at home are great for getting more writing than ever done and I've been making progress on editing my manuscript. It's also a good time to be a reader. I downloaded three novellas today and I'll be sinking in to fictional worlds to live out the many things we can't do right now-- like travel or eat out in restaurants.

A friend of mine who is a very talented crafter is thinking about putting together a fun do-it-yourself-at-home craft for her Instagram followers and we may even pair that up with a romance novel recommendation.

So, I'm keeping busy during this unprecedented time, but also taking time to spend with my children and husband and making sure my parents have what they need to get through these days, as well.

I hope you're taking care of those you love and that we'll all be able to look back on this time and be grateful that we were successful in slowing this pandemic down.



Sunday, February 9, 2020

You have to stand for something...

Growing up my mother often told us that we had to "stand for something, or we'd fall for anything." She always encouraged us to live our convictions through our choices. Through out my life I've always asked myself whether what I'm doing is aligned with who I want to be. I am careful about where I spend my dollars and I am careful about where I spent my time.

The Romance Writer's of America became embroiled in a scandal in late 2019 that had been brewing for many years. The scandal broke because of the way the organization's institutional racism drove them to punish Coutney Milan, a prominent anti-racism force on the board of directors. Everything that happened after that initial decision reinforced that the organization had no real remorse and no plans to change the institutional processes and culture that led to their racist actions.

Because of the in late 2019 I resigned from the Romance Writer's of America (RWA). It was not a hard decision because I knew it was absolutely the right thing to do. It has been, and continues to be, hard to lose the connection and community that RWA provided to me as an aspiring writer. I met my critique partners in a local chapter. I attended and even spoke at a national conference. I entered many RWA contests, attended regional events and conferences in more than one state and I owe much of my growth as a writer to the feedback and insights I received through these experiences. I've learned and grown as a writer because of RWA.

And, yet, that growth may have come at the expense of marginalized people. My growth came at the expense of the safety and inclusion of people of color. It came through an organization that has struggled to free itself of racism, anti-semitism and homophobia. And, that can't be something I stand by and allow. I have to use my voice and take my investment elsewhere.

I'm disappointed in the organization and a substantial chunk of our membership, and I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't take the time to understand more fully what was happening in this organization that I paid dues to and supported.

I thank Courtney Milan for all she did to try to create a change, and I will continue to follow her lead and do my best to have her back as a writer and a woman, though we have never met.

If you haven't read the complete history of how we got to this moment where many of us can no longer belong to this organization check out this blog: https://www.claireryanauthor.com/blog/2019/12/27/the-implosion-of-the-rwa