May in Review

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Image via Creative Commons

I can't believe tomorrow is the first day of June. This year is flying by!

It's time to review my May intentions and see how I did. 

See New Edition in concert!

- Check! And the show was amazing. I was so impressed that Ralph, Ronnie, Ricky, and Mike could still hit all those dance moves just as they did back in the day. Bobby and Johnny were struggling a bit, but that just made for more entertainment.  

Successfully host See Jane Write presents Freelancing 101. 

- Check! This panel discussion was a huge success. Click here for my wrap-up post on the event.

Survive the end of the school year.

- In the words of Alice Cooper, SCHOOL'S OUT FOR SUMMER! I survived grading nearly 70 research papers and nearly 100 exams. And I even cleaned my desk before I left. 

Start some late spring cleaning.

- This had to be put on hold due to some last-minute travel plans. So my late spring cleaning will become VERY late spring cleaning as it will be pushed to mid June. 

Write my summer manifesto.

- Instead of posting June Intentions tomorrow, on June 4 I'll be back with my resolutions for the summer (which for me, since I'm a teacher, means June and July and the first two weeks of August). 

I have HUGE plans for The Writeous Babe Project this summer so I hope you'll come along with me on this journey. And I leave you with this from one of my favorite authors:

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”  -- Henry James

Magic City Post: Katie Held Wants You to Walk for Lupus Now

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hey babes, I'm freelancing for Magic City Post now! I recently had the chance to write about an issue that many of your know is near and dear to my heart. Check it out!
Team Katie at Walk for Lupus Now Birmingham

When Katie Held tells someone that she has lupus the response is typically, “What is that?”
This is one reason why Held has been striving to raise awareness of the disease and to raise funds for its cure through the Walk for Lupus Now Birmingham event. The event is the Lupus Foundation of America, Mid-South Chapter’s largest fundraiser to support programs and services for lupus patients in Alabama. This year’s walk will take place Saturday, June 9 at Heardmont Park, located at 5452 Cahaba Valley Road.
May is Lupus Awareness Month, a great time for not only the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), but also for people like Held to educate others about the disease.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood and kidneys. Held calls lupus an “invisible disease” because oftentimes there are few visible signs that a person with lupus is sick.
“It is a hard disease to have because everyone thinks you look fine, but you feel terrible,” Held said. “I try every day to smile through the pain and fatigue. Sometimes people have no idea I am having a bad day.”

Finish reading this article at Magic City Post.

See Jane Freelance

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Last night my organization See Jane Write Birmingham hosted its third educational event, Freelancing 101. This panel discussion featured writers and editors of top local publications and drew about 50 attendees. Complete with free refreshments and time to network with other local writers, it was a great way to spend a Tuesday night. (But I might be a bit biased.)

Here is a taste of the writing wisdom the panelists shared with us.

Carla Jean Whitley is managing editor of Birmingham Magazine and she loves coffee. I mean, she really loves coffee, and that’s actually good news for you. One of the pearls of wisdom Carla Jean shared at Tuesday’s panel discussion is the value of building relationships with editors, and you can start simply by inviting them out for coffee. Over a cup of jo you can pick their brains about their publications and their freelancing needs.

This is not to take the place of doing your homework, first. Before attempting to freelance for a publication it’s important that you be familiar it. “Read more than one issue,” Carla Jean suggests. All panelists agreed that you must get to know a publication’s style and have a sense of its audience to successfully pitch story ideas.

And speaking of story ideas, Carla Jean says that one of the best ways to come up with stories to pitch is to simply follow your curiosity. “If you’re interested someone else may be too,” she said. “Keep your eyes open.”

Glenny Brock is editor-in-chief of Weld, a newsweekly that she and three partners founded last year. Even though Glenny couldn’t “give a hoot about hunting and fishing," some of the best writing advice she ever received was from a man who specialized in this very topic. (Fun fact: Glenny’s first freelance piece was published in a magazine called Varmint Masters.) From this writer/editor, Glenny learned how important it is for a writer to see stories everywhere. “He never did an interview for just one story,” she said. Glenny believes that by asking the right questions, a good reporter can retrieve information and details for five stories in one interview. “Use every part of the animal,” she said, no pun intended. So if you’re doing a profile on a fisherman also find out some of his favorite fishing spots, the best places to buy fishing gear, etc. These can be the starts of more stories.

As for pitching your ideas Glenny said it’s important to be as specific as possible. So don’t email her saying you want to write a story about running. Instead consider pitching a story about a running group or new marathon in town. Your pitch will also be more appealing, she said, if you already have a few sources in mind for the story.  

When Chianti Cleggett talks about writing her face lights up and she sounds as joyful as a girl with a new crush. But this isn’t puppy love. Chianti has had a long-time love affair with the written word.  Chianti has been featured in various publications including The Birmingham Times, Birmingham Magazine, and Many of her writing opportunities have come from others being award of her love of writing. All her friends and family know it’s her passion so they’re constantly sending her leads.

Panelist Kate Agliata said Tuesday night that, “Good writers are constantly reading,” and Chianti is a prime example of that. You’ll often find her in a book store delving into magazines. This is a great way to generate story ideas. Chianit and Glenny recommend looking for ways to localize national stories or taking a local story and finding a national angle.

Afraid of pitching to national publications? Don’t be. Chianti says it never hurts to just go for it. “Take a stab in the dark,” she said. “What do you have to lose?”

One of the best pieces of advice Kate Agliata ever received was: “Write what you know.” Kate has been doing just that working as a writer and editor for, Birmingham’s online green living resource. Her work has also been published by several nationally recognized websites including HGTVPro, HGTVRemodels, and Got2begreen, one of Time magazine’s 2009 best rated websites.

If you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t feel like a know much,” you need to change that ASAP, sister. Kate recommends really focusing on a few of your interests and developing an expertise in those areas. That doesn’t mean you know everything. In fact, you need to stay thirsty for more knowledge. If you read something and you have questions, seek out the answers, Kate said. Chances are you’ll stumble upon a story idea in the process.

All of this may be a lot to take in, but if you remember nothing else, take this to heart: keep writing. All four panelists agreed that the best way to see your byline in your favorite publications and the only way to realize that dream of being a successful full-time freelancer (successful meaning you can pay your bills without eating Ramen noodles for dinner every night) is to write as much as you can. Get your name out there even if it means writing for a tiny community paper or even a newsletter for a local organization. And, yes, even if it means occasionally writing for free.

But in the midst of the hustle don’t lose your love for language. Chianti, for example, sets aside time once a week to simply write for pleasure.

And Kate’s advice is this: “Write every day, even if only for 5 minutes.”

The Only Reason I Like The Facebook Timeline

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I am not a fan of the Facebook timeline layout and I'm quite crotchety about it. I have trouble finding recent posts and trouble deciding on a cover photo. Also I don't like that the profile pictures on this new layout are so small. 

Nonetheless one day while clicking around my timeline and looking at some of my wall posts from my early years on Facebook, I stumbled upon a piece of creative non-fiction I wrote back in 2006. Usually when I look back at things I wrote long ago I cringe, but this time that wasn't the case. Reading this piece reminded me of a time in my life when writing was everything and everything was a story or poem waiting to be written. 

My hope, my prayer is that I can get back to this, that I can get back to feeling like a real writer again. 

And in case you're curious, here's that little piece of prose I found tucked in my timeline. 

Untitled Ramblings for T. 

ice cream horror
Image by Wee Lakeo
via Creative Commons

They were eating ice cream in a food court. He was studying her as she crunched bites out of her waffle cone. He watched carefully so he could warn her about drips of vanilla that were coveting a spot on the thigh of her pants. He ate sweet cream from a big Styrofoam bowl. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good,’ rang in her head as she watched him lick the spoon. 

His hunger for God was apparent. Every time she mentioned another long Sunday at church he hit her with a list of questions that made her feel the way her sources must as she interviewed them for another story. He wanted to know what she believed and why. She told him, God is love and desires communion with creation. But she didn’t know how to explain the moments she’d felt the spirit of God move through her body and tickle her toes.

He told her he’d made a deal with God: "I said 'Look God, I won’t blame you for the bad stuff as long as you don’t expect me to thank you for the good stuff. And I’ll never ask you for anything.'"

He told her he couldn’t pray, ‘Oh thank you Lord for that promotion’ when there are people in Nicaragua searching for dinner in landfills. She didn’t know what to say. She thanked God daily for her reporting gig, her Chevy Cavalier, her two-bedroom home, for the blue of a cloudless sky and for the flavor of wild berry tea smoothies. What was she to say? 

He said that he could never thank God for saving him from a tornado if his neighbor’s house was destroyed. He believed in God, but in an absent one, not a Heavenly Father just a deadbeat dad. 

He wanted to know how she pictured God. She didn’t. Not anymore. It took her years to stop seeing the big white man with white hair and white eyes that she prayed to as a little girl. Her God was ever present but was now invisible and that’s the way she liked it. Because most white men intimidated the shit out of her worshiping one was out of the question. Fear of the Lord couldn’t mean this, she reasoned.

God could be anything, he said. God could be a vapor. Or ice cream, she thought but she didn’t say it out loud for fear it would confuse him or convince him she prayed to false idols. 

But she and he had one thing in common – the thought of a God that played favorites terrified them both. She told her husband that once and he tried to convince her she should be grateful to be chosen. But instead she wanted to vomit from disgust and fear because what kind of parent has a favorite child? 

Motherhood and the Media

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Like most Americans I spent today thinking a lot about motherhood. I was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon with my mama feeling so blessed that she has not only been a good mother but is now also my good friend.

While I was contemplating motherhood, however, I also began to lament the latest media coverage on the matter. The so-called War on Women that colored much of the Republican primary race has taken a turn and become the Mommy Wars. Because I’m not a mother I’ve tried to stay silent on this issue, but because I’m a feminist writer I couldn't keep quiet for long. 

The issue of attachment parenting is the center of the battle and is the topic of the Time magazine cover story Are You Mom Enough?. Though mom bloggers like Rachel Callahan say the article and its associated supplements actually weren't offensive she and many others didn't quite feel the same about the cover photo, which has caused quite a ruckus. 

image via

What troubles me about the discourse around attachment parenting is that it often pits working mothers and stay-at-home moms against one another and creates a "Motherhood vs. Feminism" narrative. In fact that was the headline for a New York Times feature exploring attachment parenting published late last month.

The piece included seven brief personal essays from mothers with varying opinions on attachment parenting. While some women believe attachment parenting hurts feminism pushing women to give up their careers and financial security, actress and author Mayim Bialik argues that the pioneers of attachment parenting believe is it as much a feminist choice to be a parent as it is to not be one. Meanwhile, women like columnist Lashaun Williams believe that feminism pressures women to work suggest that the damage that attachment parenting is doing to feminism is a good thing.

Because I’m not a mother I don’t feel I have a right to speak on attachment parenting, but I will say that all the judgment needs to stop! I believe that a woman should have the right to choose to be a stay-at-home mom, a working mom or to not be a mom at all. And this is exactly why feminism is important to this conversation, because feminism is all about choice.

Furthermore feminists understand that the conversation about “mothering” should be about “parenting.”

As Annie Urban writes:
Too often the discussion about women’s choices (stay at home, go back to work) ignores the role of fathers. To achieve meaningful equality, we need to push for a society that values fathers who strike a balance between their career and their family life too. Women shouldn’t have to be equally uninvolved parents to reach their goals; they should be able to ask their spouses to step up too.  
 Motherhood is too messy, too complicated, and too hard for society to make it even harder by urging women to judge one another instead of support one another. As we discuss complexity of motherhood let us not forget the beauty and value and sisterhood.

Who Needs Feminism?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lately I've been thinking a lot about how to make a difference with my writing, specifically with the writing I do online through my blogs and web-based publications as this is the best way to have meaningful interactions with your readers. 

Sometimes I get discouraged, thinking my words are just whispers in a din of voices that are louder and wiser than mine. But then blogs like Who Needs Feminism? launch and my fervor is rekindled. 

image via

Who Needs Feminism is a Tumblr launched last month by a group of 16 undergraduate students at Duke University. They started the site as a final project for a seminar course called Women in the Public Sphere, but in just a month the site has garnered attention from sites like Mashable and boasts nearly 11,000 likes on its Facebook page.

The Tumblr features posters and statements from people explaining why feminism is important. As Mashable reports, "Statements range from the personal to the global, including 'I need feminism because it’s 2012 and only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women,' and 'I need feminism because I want to be respected, regardless of what I’m wearing.'"

Part of the website's mission is to not only spark a conversation about gender equality but also to combat the negative perceptions of feminists that are so prevalent in our society even in 2012. From the site:

Identify yourself as a feminist today and many people will immediately assume you are man-hating, bra-burning, whiny liberal. Perhaps a certain charming radio talk show host will label you as a “Feminazi” or “slut.” Even among more moderate crowds, feminism is still seen as too radical, too uncomfortable, or simply unnecessary. Feminism is both misunderstood and denigrated regularly right here on Duke’s campus. We, the 16 women of Professor Rachel Seidman’s course on Women in the Public Sphere, have decided to fight back against these popular misconceptions surrounding the feminist movement. Our class was disturbed by what we perceive to be an overwhelmingly widespread belief among students that today’s society no longer needs feminism. In order to change this perception on campus, we have launched a PR campaign for feminism. We aim to challenge existing stereotypes surrounding feminists and assert the importance of feminism today.

I find the Who Needs Feminism? Tumblr encouraging for a number of reasons. First, I'm glad that this was started by college students because it has been my experience that many young women and girls believe feminism is no longer necessary, that we as women have "arrived" and the struggle is over. 

Secondly, I like that this site features such a wide variety of young voices as it reminds me to not simply focus on what feminism means to me but to also consider how sexism affects other women (and men) too, because it can affect us all differently depending on factors such as race, sexual orientation, class, disabilities, religion, etc. 

But lastly, this project encourages me as a writer and blogger. There is a slew of feminist blogs out there yet this one still managed to stand out and, more important, it sparked conversations and inspired people.  

So remember this the next time you're thinking "Who needs my blog?" 

April in Review and May Intentions

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Photo via Creative Commons

I'm several days late posting my intentions for this month, which just goes to show how chaotic life has been lately. I even forgot to do my April review. So let's start there. 

Guest blog.

Have lunch with the ladies of See Jane Write.

  • I had a fabulous lunch with some of my fellow women writers and our gathering inspired this post

Continue to write for Clutch.

  • I didn't write for Clutch last month because I was busy with some other freelance gigs, including a profile of Nina Garcia of Marie Claire and Project Runway fame!
Post at least one Blog Like a Girl Q&A.

  • Ugh. Another failure. Sigh. 
Rejoin the blogging community.

  • I cross-posted a few things onto my Skirt blog, but I still don't feel as though I've actually rejoined the community. 
Start a new workout regimen.

  • EPIC FAIL! I just can't get motivated. I'm still only working out twice a week. Pitiful.
Launch another attempt to become a good cook.

  • I'm certainly nowhere near being a good cook, but I've been putting in much practice. 
Blog about and attend Paint the Town Red.

  • I did a preview post on the event and then had a great time attending with my cousin/BFF.
Check out Living in Limbo.

  • I not only saw the exhibit, but I also attended a panel discussion on religion and homosexuality that was very eye-opening and inspiring, so inspiring that I left with an idea for what I hope will be my first book!

And here are my goals for the month of May:

See New Edition in concert!
Successfully host See Jane Write presents Freelancing 101. 
Survive the end of the school year. 
Write my summer manifesto.
Start some late spring cleaning. 

What are your plans for May?

Letter to My Younger Self

Thursday, May 3, 2012

write me a letter...
Photo by Linda Cronin
Image via Creative Commons

Although this probably breaks some sort of woman rule, I'm not really a huge Oprah fan. But I did recently purchase the May issue of O magazine, as the Internet was abuzz about a letter to her younger self that Winfrey penned for the issue.

I've been wanting to write something similar for months, but have struggled to find the right focus and the right words. So I hoped reading Oprah's letter would serve as some inspiration. And guess what, it did. So I present a letter to my younger self.

Dear Jai, 

It's October 2001 and in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When you find yourself sitting on a bed of rocks near the foot of a waterfall you think to yourself, "Who would have thought that a little black girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Birmingham, Alabama would ever have the chance to do such a thing?" But you have this chance because you are lucky enough to be part of a graduate school preparation program that allowed you to travel all over the country attending conferences and presenting your research on women’s health magazines. Wait. I take that back. Luck has nothing to do with it. You have these opportunities because you’re smart, you work hard and you pray harder. And you deserve them.

Even though you’re only 20, these blessings aren’t lost on you. You take nothing for granted. You are grateful for every moment. But you are still a bit distracted during this trip. Things have been rocky with the boyfriend for months and you’re at your wits end about how to salvage the relationship. I wish I could be there to whisper in your ear “Let him go.” I wish I could tell you that the next summer you’re going to meet the love of your life, that you’ll meet someone who loves your big hair and your big dreams.

I also wish I could tell you to listen to Katie, the women’s studies major in your grad school prep program. She’s a staunch feminist always seeking to expose the evils of sexism and preaching equal rights for women. You roll your eyes when she talks, unaware that you’ll be in a pro-woman pulpit of your own in a couple of years. You say things like, “I’m all about girl power, but I won’t start calling myself a feminist until they stop hating men.” Guess what babe, you’re a feminist; you just don’t know it yet. And feminism has nothing to do with hating men. But you’ll learn all this soon enough.

None of the graduate schools you’re applying to are in New York and you’re wondering if this is a mistake. Since you were 15 your plan has been to get to the Big Apple as soon as possible so that you can one day work for Essence magazine. But even at 20 you’ve already learned that things don’t always turn out how we plan. But you’ve also learned how to bloom where you’re planted and it is this knowledge, this wisdom that will allow you to create a beautiful and fulfilling life no matter where you are.


If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you tell her?