Thursday, December 25, 2014

Stories at The Storey: Brief reflections on the first event

The first Stories at The Storey is behind us, the words have settled and I'm still smiling.

The evening was filled with true stories, an engaged audience, a selection of nibbles and a tour. Launching the Grad College PG Study Hub with the launch of Stories at The Storey has led to the creation of a rewarding ongoing relationship. I couldn't have asked for more.

There were engaging true stories about launching writing careers, research endeavors, creative collaborations, relationship-interventions, honesty manifestos and Black Friday survival tips. The five speakers shared stories without happy endings, about endings and some without endings at all.

The storytellers shared chapters of their lives that ideally left listeners wanting more.

Sponsored by Lancaster University's Grad College, Naomi and I are preparing for the next Stories at The Storey in January. The theme is Resolutions. We will be looking for five storytellers to share loose interpretations of your true stories about resolutions past, present or future.

Stories at the Stories: Real people, Real stories.

What other people are saying about Stories at the Storey:
Lancaster University
Lancaster Guardian
Lancaster University's Scan

We hope to see you at the next Stories at the Storey.

Happy New Year!


Friday, November 28, 2014

Diary of a Black Friday Shopper (from a Black Friday in the past)

KMart Sales Price Tag Misprint
If it seems too good to be true...


Each year, retailers hope to entice people to part with their money in ever more seductive ways: free upgrades, bundles, instant rebates, discounts.

This year as my best friend and I plotted our Black Friday recession strategy, there was one thing we had not planned on—bigger crowds.

It wasn’t because they did such a great job on marketing this year—while I heard that many large retailers were opening their doors at midnight, Arundel Mills opening seemed hushed in comparison.  I knew they would be open this year because they were open last year.

At 11:30 pm, the parking lot is a mass of metallic and light.  I find a spot right in front of a store we won’t actually be going to that while not ideal at 11:37 in the cold rain, will be prime once we are gone.

“It’s hard to believe this is a recession."

Initially, I agree.

“Maybe,” I reconsider, “all these people are here really trying to save money.”

In years past, Black Friday has been about camaraderie and competitive shopping.  This year, for us and many of the novice, veteran and window shoppers joining us, this year it is truly about getting a deal.

Retailers like Echo Unlimited recognize it too.

Gone is the attitude of Black Friday being some sort of favor for shoppers. Most of the insulting 10-15% off sales have been replaced with 30-70% off deals.  While many stores wait until the scheduled 12 o’clock mall opening, many capitalize on capitalism and open when the customers arrive—early.

There is a reciprocal shift; an appreciation of commerce seems to have—at least for now—toppled the old way of doing business.

Burlington Coat Factory has multiple cash registers open and we notice at least two managers at the front of the cashiers waiting to answer customer and cashier questions; if their goal is transactional ease—it is achieved and appreciated.

While most of the sale items I want at Toys R US are gone (though available all day online), it’s 3 AM, and I am greeted by eager staff, short lines, and quick service.

Likewise, it takes longer to get to Marley Station’s JC Penny’s than it does to wait in line.  As the clock nears 4 AM, they are prepared, chipper, well-stocked and well-attended.

Honestly, Black Friday for me starts 12 hours earlier, at Kmart.  Because I’m only going to pick up a few items for the house, I don’t mind sliding in near 10 AM for the sale that started at 7.  It took me years to trust holiday sales, as a closet conspiracy theorist, I always worry that the price I pay today is more than the price I would have paid yesterday. 

 So, when my daughter and I see the  slip advertising irons regularly priced $5.99 on sale today for $9.99—a part of me says, ‘I told you so’ to the part of me that didn’t want to know.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Stories at The Storey: What is a True Story Open Mic Night?

Real people. Real life. Real stories.

It's that simple. 

Everyone has a story. No matter what defines us or how we define ourselves, real life happens to all of us. 

Have you accomplished something amazing? Taught yourself a skill? 

Whether the answer is yes or no, you have a story to share.

Have you learned something about yourself that you don't like? Let yourself or someone else down? Ended up miles from where you thought you would be? 

Regardless of where you are or where you thought you would be, you have a story.

And for one night, you have an audience.

Sharing your true story is therapeutic. It can help you move through something, towards something else or remind you that you are where you want to be doing what you want to do.

Who are we looking for? Everyday people.

What's in it for you? A captive audience (at least for 3 to 5 minutes).

What's in it for us? The Story. We realize not all stories have happy endings and not every story has closure. Whether your story covers a chapter in your life; a day, an event, an experience and leaves us there wondering what happened. It's your story. 

Tell it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Career Options for Creative Writers: My next role: Villain (Expanding My Career Portfolio)

When I was much younger (some time before wanting to be a rapper) I wanted to be a villain. Not necessarily a law breaking villain but one on paper, in a book. Now, after maturing, living and realizing possibilities I'm back to wanting to be a villain; this time off the page.

As an upcoming voice-over talent I'd like to play the character of a villain in an audio book, video game or animation. I've performed as a professional voiceover artist and have been cast for narration and corporate reads.

My next adventure?

Villain.

Have you diversified your career portfolio?

I'm a mom, a full-time PhD Student, an emerging writer working on a novel, a researcher, a literary interviewer, a literary event organizer, a voiceover artist, an Associate Lecturer and an Assistant Professor. To be successful I'm told I need to create a career portfolio and forget what I've been told about a career path. I need to think in terms of strategies not strategy; Opportunities not opportunity. I need to pluralize my goals.

If I don't diversify now it will take longer to get where I want to go. There is no one path to the future I want. But if I don't seize options (not an option) I will get nowhere faster and stay there longer.

So I diversify and I write and I research and I write. My degree allows me to apply practice based research; I create while I read, research and explore new worlds and stories. My pursuit of a PhD in Creative Writing opens doors to careers people imagine and opportunities people create. For a habitual multi-tasker who needs multiple projects to keep sane, this career portfolio strategy and my future Creative Writing PhD just may work out at least until I find out where I'm going and craft the path there.



Writing your future, revising your past, moving forward: Yvonne Battle-F...

The Writing Life Episode Ten: Ramzy Sweis

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Stories at The Storey: Open Call for performers (Lancaster, UK)

Jobs. Relationships. Journeys. Stories. Everything starts with a beginning—a launch.
We want to hear yours.
Stories at The Storey offers a nonfiction storytelling experience and is looking for performers, students, community members, staff, visitors and anyone with a true story to share to fill 10 True Story Open Mic Night slots.
We are interested in engaging stories told well.
On December 1 we are launching our True Story Series and are honored to be joining Lancaster University's Grad College for the launch of the PG Study Hub at the Storey.
If you have an engaging story that loosely explores the theme “launch” we would love to hear it.
Email: storiesatthestorey@gmail.com for more information and to apply for a 3-5 minute slot.
Event sponsored by LU Grad College.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What's Next for The Writing Life? Upcoming The Writing Life Season

As I prepare for a new season and new possible directions for The Writing Life, I took some time to reflect on the things I've learned these past three seasons.

The top of the list:
1. Write because you love it.
2. Write because you need to.
3. Publish because you have something to say.
4. The story is the most important element.
5 Without characters, there is no story.
6. Challenge yourself as a writer.
7. Challenge readers.
8. Write

Catch up with The Writing Life interviews here.
What did you learn from the interview season? What questions would you like me to ask future guests? Comment below.

What's new this season? This season I'll be interviewing emerging writers as they showcase their work on the show. I'm looking for poets, short story writers, playwrights, novelists and Creative Nonfiction writers: any one with a story to share.

Want to get involved? Leave a comment here, contact me through the station or Tweet me on Twitter: @YBattleFelton 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

One Class at a Time: Back to School for Moms and Dads too

I started my adult learner education when I was in my 20’s. It was around 2002. I had two children, worked full time and it had been almost a decade since my last attempt at pursuing my education.

“What about your kids?” Friends asked. “Who’s going to take care of them while you’re in class?”

It wasn’t like I was going traipsing around town, I was taking evening classes at a community college.

“Their dad,” I answered.

“What if they need you?”

“What if someone gets hurt?”

“What if…”

I was leaving them with a capable adult. No one asked what if when I went to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week but the decision to go to school sparked quite a few discussions. Why are you so angry about me going back to school? I wondered. 

I didn’t ask. 

No answer would have been enough to stop me from going back to school. People thought I was selfish to choose my education. That’s as ridiculous to me now as it was then. How can pursuing my goals while providing for my children be wrong? Where is it written that in order for my family to succeed I must do without?

I went back to school.

I started out with two classes at a local community college. I was so excited to be back in a college classroom that I didn’t pay much attention to my fellow students. I didn’t participate in any activities, groups, organizations or societies. With two children, a husband, a full-time job and homework, I didn’t have a lot of time to experience college anywhere but inside the classroom.

A few semesters later I was going to school full-time. Then I transferred to University of Maryland University College (UMUC). I took classes both online and on campus. In 2005 I had my third child. In 2006 I graduated from UMUC and started my Master’s program at John’s Hopkins.

Over my academic career I have learned as much about myself as I have about my studies.

While pursuing my Master’s I continued to work full-time, raised three children as a married-single mother, and added a Nonfiction Concentration to my Fiction degree. I went to Florence for a class, Chicago for a conference and to Iowa for a workshop. Later that year I took my children with me to Breadloaf. In 2008 I divorced.

My education has been good for all of us.

Now my children and I are in the UK while I pursue a Creative Writing PhD. While being a single mother of three I engage in the student experience as a full-time student. I am writing a novel. I work part-time, teach, write and I host a campus radio show. I host events I want to attend and organize events I want to see.
I am crafting a life of creativity, purpose, love, inspiration, hope and I couldn’t do it without the support of my family.

If you are wondering whether or not you can balance family, work and school, I believe you can. Will it be hard? Yes. Will you sleep less? Yes. Will it be worth it?

Yes.


Enroll today. The future begins with one class.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Making a Career with my Words

Usually when I assess my career goals I end up with the same goal: I want to make a career with my words. There is something exciting about manipulating words on the page (or screen) that I love. The more people I talk to people who make a living writing, the more possible my dreams become.

I find my research as a student often leads into research in life. My interest in interviews as a medium for crafting the Slave Narratives and as a source for gathering information complements my interests in crafting narratives through interviews in my career. It's only natural that my interest in words would mingle old traditions with newer ones and lead me to want to use my voice both on the page and on the mic. 

Which came first?

When I was a teenager, my friend Alicia and I decided we were going to be rappers. We didn't say we wanted to try to be rappers, just that we were going to be rappers. Our manager was a good friend, Peace. She didn't know much about the music industry but Peace is a natural advocate. If there was any negotiation involved, we needed her on our side. 

We found a studio in Philadelphia and when we rehearsed our lines, we went to make a demo. 

"What track is this going to?"The engineer asked.

It turns out we weren't prepared. We thought it was his job to find out about music, copyrights and anything else we needed to know. 

He popped in some generic music and we put rhyme to beat. In the almost 20 years since making that demo I've listened to it probably once. 

One day we decided we were no longer rappers.

Since then I have worked as an accidental professional voice-over artist and now I want to do it on purpose.  Crafting a career with my words can include on the page and on the mic. A few weeks ago I went to a studio to make a professional demo. Before arriving the producer asked me to find four types of scripts and to practice them. I went to the studio much more prepared than I did in the past and so far, I've listened to the demo three times. Now to send it out.

Want to listen? Here it is courtesy of VoiceOvers-UK

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My TEDx Tips: What I Learned in My TEDx Talk


A few months ago, I was nominated to give a TEDx talk at Lancaster University.   I had watched TED speakers engage, entertain and enlighten audiences for years. The opportunity to present a talk on a platform I admired was as exciting as I imagine it will be to be listed on the New York Times Best Seller’s list.

 It wasn’t until my nomination was approved and I was offered the opportunity to speak that my excitement turned in to something as close to panic as I get.

What would I talk about?

While I was pursuing my Master’s at Johns Hopkins I attended a class in Florence, Italy.  I was writing a novel at the time. The novel was problematic. There were three main characters in varying degrees of relationships with one another. The complication as I saw it was that none of the characters wanted to be in a relationship. The complication according to Professor Perlman was that all of the characters were me.

He didn’t say that.

“Who are the main characters?” he asked. “And what does she want?”
If my life is my story and I’m the main character, what do I want?
Plotting my life reminds me to look for solutions to obstacles; that I have goals, and that the supporting characters in my life have motivations other than mine; it helps me to recognize and create opportunities; to forgive myself and others and to appreciate the beauty in revising.

How could I motivate and inspire others to be the main characters in their own lives?
Before I created an outline of the points I wanted to touch on, I spoke my talk out loud. Picturing my audience as I spoke reminded me to inflect, make eye contact and use body language. But at first my view of my audience was too large. I pictured an audience of people I didn’t know, mixed with people I did: coworkers, colleagues and family. My imaginary auditorium was filled with faces with different expectations. Would I say something that could embarrass my mother?

My talk was personal. Were there things in my story that would reflect negatively on other characters in my life? I kept practicing. I plucked familiar faces from my mind and when I practiced I talked to an audience of people who didn’t know me. Picturing a room full of strangers allowed me to share the idea and passion I wanted to share.


If you spend too much time worrying about what people who aren’t there will think, you’ll miss out on sharing valuable ideas with people who are.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Diary of a Creative Writing PhD Student: On Keeping Secrets

As an adult, I have used silence as both a shield and a sword.

Growing up, many people learn that what happens at home stays there. At some point we learned that discussions about family problems were not to leave the family table.  

Domestic violence, financial problems, mental health illness and a myriad of other issues were solved (or not) at home.  Sharing information with “the streets” was viewed as wrong—perhaps even more wrong than whatever the problem was.

The idea of what happens at home stays at home extended to the community so that what happened in the community did not go beyond that. As a community we needed to appear strong, united.

Where did we learn this?

As part of my research as a PhD student I’m exploring the premise that the Black community has become well versed at keeping secrets and hiding pain; sometimes to our own detriment. I don’t know that this is a Black/ African American phenomenon, a gender experience or if silence is something that affects households and communities regardless of race, gender, etc… and I would like to find out.

I’m also interested in the conversations that we don’t have; the information women don’t share with other women regardless of color and conversations that don’t cross gender and/or color lines.

I know I have read fiction and seen films where the topic of silences and secrets in communities was touched on but can remember the titles of barely a few. On my list I have Beloved, Dessa Rose and The Long Song. What books and/or films, plays, etc…am I missing?


Where did you learn to keep secrets?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Writing Life Episode 10 with Ramzy Sweis

Writing is a business. Like any successful business the business of writing takes more than passion, desire and talent.  Finding the right balance is up to you. Each week I interview writers about how they craft a career with their words. In Episode 10, comedian, novelist, screen play writer and teacher Ramzy Sweis shares insight on pitching, promoting and getting results.

Listen in.

What's your writing life? Please share your stories below. Questions you want me to ask my next guest? I'm just a comment away.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

After thoughts: Reflections on My Interview with Writer P.A. Chawla

How cool is it to wake up one morning and decide to leave your job and write full time?

Well, without planning, a solid foundation, and a strong support team, quitting your day job might seem cool but it won't pay the bills.

Talking with writer P.A. Chawla helped me put a few things into perspective. I want to make a living with my words not be a starving artist. My children need to eat. I analyze options before I make decisions. Before making any major decision, I outline the main characters of the situation (story), review motivations and consider possible tension and plots. Because I want to make a living, I'm more likely to plan, organize and save before deciding to drop everything and write.

According to Chawla, I'm on to something. In a candid interview, writer P.A. Chawla shares her route to the Writing Life.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Writing Life goes Live: A Discussion About Making a Living as a Writer

I’m pursuing a Creative Writing PhD.

“What are you going to do with that?” People ask.

It’s not what some consider a logical degree choice.  Logical choices translate from degree to bank account; from dollars in cost to dollars in revenue. Logical degree choices don’t just make sense; they make cents—a lot of them.

I am a writer.

What other degree allows me to write and research engaging topics that interest, love and inspire me? Who would I be if I didn’t follow my passion? And what will I be if I don’t apply logic to passion?

Broke.

It is not logical to assume I will graduate and no matter how engaging my writing, tumble in to a full-time Creative Writing faculty position. Despite my modern degree, chances are I will have to earn my position the old fashioned way: one best seller at a time.

Each conversation I have with either an established or emerging writer shows me that it is possible to craft a career as a writer, as long as I keep a day job and a steady stream of projects and possibilities. I have to market, promote and network; I have to establish relationships. I have to treat writing as a business if I want to be in the business of writing.

In two weeks I am hosting my first live event. The discussion is a panel of writers, including award winning writer Carys Davies and lecturer, writer George Green, who will share information, tips and advice about their writing lives: when they knew they could afford to quit day jobs (if they have); advice for new writers; what they worry about most.


Each story I hear brings me closer to my goal; each story I share ensures others will reach theirs. 

Join us for the Writing Life Live Discussion on Saturday at Lancaster University’s Campus in the City at St. Nicholas Arcades (near Costa Coffee). The discussion is free; the information, invaluable. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Classroom is not the Front Line

Over the past four years I have taught “traditional” college-aged students in their late teens to early twenties, as well as “adult learners” and “mature students”; these are all labels that don’t necessarily seem to translate inside the classroom: they are all students.

My students are individuals with a drive for individual success, a sense of responsibility and a set of needs that lead to expectations that I hope to meet and exceed if not the first class, by the last.  Not all of my students are happy about being in a classroom; they don't all want to be there. But the battle is not between them and I; it is not personal.  And so I will teach them--but I won't fight them. I don't picture myself forcibly injecting knowledge or administering academic CPR.

Though I struggle with names, I hope to build relationships with each student and learn their personalities, goals and needs in ways that make sense to me: I learn about people through their words, mainly through their writing. As an instructor in various forms of writing, I teach students to write effectively to reach not just me, but their target audience in whatever arena they are in.

I’ve been reading a lot about mental health in education; about students feeling isolated, depressed and lost.

A few weeks ago my daughter saw a young woman step in front of a bus: grades had just been released.

A reminder to my academic colleagues: give students the grades they earn and help them work through them. Give constructive, positive feedback and be available to provide assistance, an ear, a light. If academia is a battleground for you, if this is your opportunity to “weed out the weak”—consider another line of work. My job is to provide tools and to teach students how to think critically and creatively; to build up a generation of thinkers.

Am I asking you to be a therapist, a psychologist, a friend?


It doesn’t matter what name you put on it be a human.

Friday, February 14, 2014

You Know You're a Lady When...(Reposted)

I wrote this post a few years ago but it made me smile when I saw it again...



“I’m a fucking lady,” she screamed in a voice thick with the promise of tears and violence, “Where’s he at? Where the fuck is he at?”

No one answered.

Silence is one of the first rules of avoidance isn’t it? Pretend you don’t see them and the potentially crazy, violent person will fade away? I didn’t know who ‘he’ was where ‘he’ went and since I wasn’t looking at her in the first place, I didn’t know who it was that she could not see.

Each time I go to the laundromat I vow it will be my last. For at least six months, my dryer at home has been broken. I repaired it once before and the cost was more than the cost to replace it. I have agreed to buy my husband out of the house--if it makes financial sense for me to do so, and I haven’t decided that it does. To purchase a dryer, have someone haul it up my 28 stairs, down the 10 or so stairs to the basement and haul the old one up 10 or so stairs and down 28 stairs, implies a commitment I am not quite sure I want to make.

And so, I haul my family’s bags of dirty clothes to the laundry, holding my breath to avoid the aroma of dirty linen, clothes and under things being stuffed into over-sized 32 quarter washing machines. It was 100 degrees this morning, a good enough reason to uncrinkle this week’s circulars in search for a dryer, but there would be other reasons.

“I’m a fucking lady,” she screamed again.

Now, usually if you have to tell someone that you are a fucking lady, it’s a pretty good indication that you aren’t acting like one, but now did not seem the time to mention it, and I couldn’t mention it if I wanted to, since I was ignoring her in the first place.

“What are you? Cart warrior?” she accused the laundry attendant after spying him whispering into the payphone.

Between her stomping in and out of the glass doors, and sounds of what I assumed were her putting her laundry into the washer, the other customers and I heard how the “coward-ass attendant assaulted” the” lady” in front of her “fucking kids” and grabbed the cart she had illegally taken into the parking lot to load their dirty clothes.

“You don’t know who the fuck I am,” she continued with a New York accent mingled with anger and helplessness. 

I didn’t see her ‘fucking’ children and unless they were very low to the ground (where I was looking). I hoped to avoid seeing them.

The lady in the laundromat was indignant even after the police came. The police asked her what was wrong. She explained (without the curses) and then they asked the attendant (who was safely outside) some questions. They came back in and informed her that the attendant wanted her to leave. She had to gather her soaking wet laundry out of the washing machine, restuff them into plastic bags and gather her children, clothes and pride back to her car and leave the premises--now.

“What about my fucking 33 quarters?” she asked.The attendant could not (or would not) open the machines, and as the lady explained, 33 quarters is a lot of “fucking money” if you don’t have it.

A young woman interrupted, “Miss,” she volunteered, “I got it.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why Do I Host the Writing Life?

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Jen Makumbi Morris on balancing life, writing, family and other career goals. If you missed the broadcast on my show, The Writing Life, I've included it below.

Why do I do it?

Like many people in various stages of academic pursuits, I'm faced with the opportunity to create, edit and reinvent my career path. My question is how will I balance providing for my family with my writing passion?

The obvious answer seems that I would write for a living.

I don't need the obvious answer; I need a strategic plan. I need to see other writers making careers with their words and writers who balance "day jobs" and writing careers. I'm interested in stories that work well and stories that need a bit of revising.

Along with writing my first novel, I write short stories, personal essays, business blog posts.  I'm also a novice script writer. The ability to write both fiction and nonfiction as well as my interest in Public Relations make certain career choices intriguing and appealing.

Where will I end up?

Right now, I don't know. Each interview brings me a bit closer to imagining my Writing Life.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Diary of a Creative Writing PhD Student: One Thing My Research Allows Me to Do

My research allows me to study nonfiction texts like newspaper articles, scholarly journals, narratives, studies, and letters as well as contemporary fiction to establish a historical context that helps me create well rounded characters; characters who adapt and challenge their reality and to write a work that reflects the individuality of my characters’ experience. 

There is no quintessential slave story and I do not endeavor to write a narrative that pretends to capture all of the possibilities between the pages. My hope is to capture characters as they exist within the world I create which is based on fact. Slavery relied on a relationship between the slaver and the enslaved; my research shows for some slavers the need for the enslaved to act as if they were in some way appreciative and happy. My hope is through language and dialogue to capture some of the psychological aspects of slavery.

I’m interested in the stories of mothers trying to find their children and of mothers who had to give up. I’m interested in the ways characters influence plot; how some slaves endured slavery and the many ways people took control over their own narratives in their actions, in their thoughts and in their beliefs. I’m increasingly interested in the concept of trauma theory and how that relates to emancipated slaves and the effects slavery has had on future generations. I’m equally interested in continuing research that gives forgotten characters a voice. Through research I am finding that people are interested in reading, hearing the stories of emancipated slaves reconnecting with family. There are some books published through mainstream publishers that feature emancipated slaves as central characters. With this burst of historical fiction, why are there not more emancipated slave characters? Who can write emancipated slave stories? Who will read them?

Traditional publishing does not seem to have a wide enough space for stories of emancipated slaves. As they were silenced off the page, they are absent on the page as well. It is not just the emancipated slave that is missing from mainstream publishing but the work of Black authors is limited. Why don’t mainstream publishers publish a lot of Black/African American fiction? Why do American publishing houses distinguish between Black readers and readers of other races? 

What makes Black fiction Black? My research shows that in some areas of the country my work will be shelved in the African American/Black American section no matter what I write about. As a Black American woman writer, how does publishing my work in the UK differ from publishing it in the US?


Black and African American writers have been muffled throughout history; how can my work influence change? If publishing houses are manned by people who want the voices of writers of color to remain silenced, is the only hope for publishing a work they may not embrace to slip it through the cracks or to build another playground?  

My work is challenging me to re-evaluate my place in publishing; to explore where my work fits in and where I fit in on and off the page. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Diary of a Creative Writing PhD student: Why Write About Emancipated Slaves?

There is a recognized formula for grief. Experts say we grieve in stages; in cycles. Because everyone grieves differently, there is no set time frame for the stages. Still, society often tells those in grief when enough is enough. When we grieve a marriage friends, family and coworkers have a certain amount of sympathy before encouraging us to “move on” romantically. If we are adults when our parents die, we are granted a period of mourning before returning to work, a little sad and less productive perhaps, but we are expected to reach full capacity within a few weeks. For most losses there is an imagined timeframe, an allotted time for grief.

How long are we granted to grieve a child?

The loss of a child is an ongoing loss with consistent reminders throughout life; there are lost birthdays, holidays, graduations; there are no weddings, no grandchildren, no continuation. The loss resonates in the laughter of school children; the cry of random babies; the familiar shape of an eye, a walk, a tilt. Society grieves with and for parents whose children are murdered, kidnapped, or in any number of ways lost. It allows them time to heal; freedom to be angry; and forgives them their outbursts—unless they were slaves.

Emancipated slaves certainly had reason to celebrate: after centuries of forced bondage, humiliation, degradation, violence, rape, torture, disenfranchisement and racism, emancipated slaves had reason to be hopeful. But not for long. Freedom did not come with a voice. Not only were they often subjected to the same racism that allowed the acceptance, adaptation and continuation of slavery, but emancipated slaves were not granted the freedom of their own emotion. Society declared emancipated slaves should be grateful to be free; not angry to have been enslaved. They should be humble and prayerful, mindful and respectful, they should strive and be happy to strive to be less than, still. The lessons of slavery were ingrained in generation after generation, how could they be shed without reconciliation? How could they be written about—who wanted to read them?

Emancipated slaves were discouraged from grieving their lost years, lives, opportunities.  Their voices were stifled and often curtailed. Perhaps America hoped they would forget the centuries of abuse; that all would be forgiven. Perhaps it thought it had nothing to be ashamed of.  It seems that few people wanted to hear the truth about the lives of the formerly enslaved and if they did, they didn’t want to publish it. There had been Emancipatory narrative that explored the surface of slave life in such a way that did not offend the reader, but what literature could come from the lives of the formerly enslaved? Was America ready to read it?


Perhaps. But were they ready to publish it? It is impossible to say that publishing had its finger on the American throat so accurately that it knew what people wanted to read. It would seem that few works were published about life after slavery and even fewer fictions explore the emancipated slaves’ journey to reunite their family. It is time to give them a voice. My research will allow me to explore the lives of emancipated slaves as they try to reconnect with family, to rebuild community and to find themselves. 

Diary of a Creative Writing PhD Student: Reflections on Research--One Year Later

Today marks the one year anniversary of my family and my move to the UK.  As I prepare for my One Year Panel Review I have the opportunity to see the last 365 days titled, page numbered and revised; it’s a wonderful thing. Over the past year, I have crafted almost 30,000 words in fiction, thousands of words in reflection and research and read thousands of pages. My practice based research encourages me to build relationships with researchers, historians and professionals from around the world; as I write about relationships within the past I am building relationships for my future.

My research is taking me into new areas: I’m focusing on my place on the shelf, in the genre as well as crafting opportunities for other writers of color to publish and have their books read. My objective is to write stories rich with “Black themes” like family, love, friendship, and success, forgiveness.


I’m not just crafting stories here; I’m revising myself, my family. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m loving this book; this life.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Choosing a Username: What Does Your Username Say About You?

Since I heard about Mumsnet a few weeks ago I’ve been skirting along the edges trying to decide if I was going to dive in. I’m a mom, I’m a writer and I’m a mom who writes about Momming; so why not join a network?

I spent longer than I planned coming up with a snazzy user name that wasn’t already taken.  I thought I would make up one that captured my many roles: MotherWriterPhDtobe. But I don’t like guess work: will readers pause where I want them to pause? Will they recognize my play on words or will they think what I think when I see usernames with acronyms, creatively spelled (ok, misspelled) ones or names that challenge me to multiply, subtract and divide to add meaning to them?

I settled on battlefelton; a version of my last name.

After I selected it I thought: why didn’t I capitalize it? Why didn’t I at the very least hyphenate it like I do in life?

What does a lower case “b” and a run-on name say about me?
I thought about creating another account, one with Battle-Felton capitalized and hyphenated in its glory. I’m proud of my name and of who I represent.

But lowercased and unhyphenated, the more subtle, watered down version, is actually just fine.

To read me is to know me.

There are days I rush through life noting everything and everyone in it; cherishing encounters, counting blessings and feeling extremely fortunate. There are days I seem almost immobile—except that I’ve moved my family to the UK in my pursuit of a PhD and a story I want to see in print.

At the end of the day, I’m more than my username, titles, roles.

Next time I choose a username, if it isn’t already taken, I’ll choose “Me” and if it is taken, I’ll reflect, ponder and ultimately select a version that still shows who I am. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I'm a Mumsnet Blogger


mumsnetI talk about being a mom all the time--to friends, colleagues, strangers; it's a part of who I am. It's only natural that I blog about it. Of course, being a mom is not all I blog about, just like it's not all I talk about. It's a part, a component, a sliver of the pie that is me.

"How do you like uni?" a man from a local store asks my daughter.

"It's great," she answers.

I smile and walk away.

"How does he know I'm at uni?" She asks less than an aisle away.

"It comes up in conversation."

"How?"

"You know: how's the weather, how are your kids...it comes up."

She doesn't believe me.

"Are you all here for the holidays?" I'll admit, I had never seen these people before.

"Sort of," I answer. "I go to school here so we're here all year round. My daughter studies business at another university. She's here for the break."

My daughter and I set off a few minutes after we've exchanged holiday well wishes.

"See, it just comes up."

I pretend not to see my daughter shake her head.




Friday, January 10, 2014

42 Blocks to Nirvana

I found this post in my writing attic--my writing past. It is from nearly five years ago and in some ways is still true and in others not as much.


Except for the accents, we could be standing in any one of the brightly lit GameStop/EB Games stores we frequent on a far-too-regular basis in Baltimore.  GameStop/EB Games have developed a brand: a unique blend of computer-geek/technology-nerd paraphernalia capturing the illusion of some sort of Nirvana for gamers of an appropriate age, and beyond it. 
My gamer is thirteen.  We are at the counter of GameStop #1234 in New York City, one of the first spots on My daughter’s mental list of places to go on her birthday trip to NYC.
Her brown eyes sparkled when she saw the familiar GameStop logo in the middle of 7th Ave and Broadway.  We are spending the day doing whatever my teenager wants to do; if that means stumbling around another video game store, it means doing so and pretending I like it.  Searching for new Play Station 3 games and comparing prices for old Nintendo DS games is some sort of ritual she engages in at every GameStop we frequent, but this time it’s different.  This time, there are no little brothers; it’s just her, me and New York City.  There is a comfortable familiarity in this expensive ritual. 
GameStop employees typically look like people who spend too much time playing video games.  My daughter tends to avoid talking directly to them.  Today, she approaches the counter slowly, in that unimposing manner that screams “tourist.”    “Excuse me?”  She asks in patented teenalese: her soft voice lilting when her tone should dip and dipping when it should lilt in that way that suggests everything is negotiable.  “Are we close to Nintendo World?”
The employees stare at her as if they don’t speak Maryland.  They gesture out the door, up the street, waving their hands to imply a journey of some video-gamish feat.  Nervously sucking a long, brown braid, my daughter turns to me to translate their reality into hers.  Yes, I explain, they really are saying Nintendo World, the true gamer Heaven, is on 49th. 
Outside on 7th Avenue, her creamy-caramel colored face brightens.  Surely, she thinks, this is her chance to ride the infamous New York City subways—I assure her it’s not.  Before we can begin to break a sweat, we spot another GameStop.  This visit is brief.  My daughter needs to make sure I haven’t gotten her lost, again.  Assured we are on the right path, we walk on.  We pass, but do not enter, Anne Taylor’s Loft, bypass 34th street and walk through Times Square.  She is not impressed.  Although we are walking 42 blocks straight up Broadway, My daughter points out people she thinks I should ask for directions.
 They are all men. 
The oldest of my three children, she is anxious for me to start dating.  Until now, her experience with divorce has been only as intimate as the writers of the Mary Kate and Ashley series could concoct.  I didn’t have writers for my separation.  I don’t have writers for my divorce.  My story unsettles her.  Her taste unsettles me. 
We walk on.  My daughter’s long legs can keep up with my natural pace, but her feet—the same size as mine—tire somewhere around a bookstore.  She isn’t tired enough to go in.  Strangers bustle about us, their clothes, speech, and gestures providing us blocks of entertainment.  Finally, we take the short cut through Grand Central Station. 
Thanks to my sense of direction, by the time we come out the side door, I am ready to ask for directions.  My daughter scouts the possibilities: “Ask him,” she says loudly while pointing to a man in a delivery uniform.  “Or him,” she suggests of an oddly shaped man in a business suit.   Instead, we ask a young woman working at a Starbucks.  The woman points us to Rockefeller Plaza; funny no one else mentioned it was there.  Her directions are precise and we only get lost once more.  The security guard we ask walks us through the Plaza and past the ice rink.
At last, he points us to the gates of Nintendo World.


For years, my daughter and I have plodded along this path, with bumps and bruises and adjustments to accommodate her eruptions of character, taste, wants and needs.  From thick pony tails to long, thin braids, she has picked up and discarded a number of friends, best friends forever and ex-friends along the way. 
My daughter has become a tall, slimming, giggly creature instantly endowed, according to her with “access to everything, cuz like for most everything you have to be 13 years old.”  Her deep brown, almond-shaped eyes sparkle as she anxiously plots painting over her room’s pale, blue sky and plump, curvy clouds.  She hums a tuneless melody, imagining thick stripes of dark blue and brown (though not imagining anyone actually painting it).  Glancing up, she promises to leave the misshapen pink (a color she has never liked) palace with her name in bold cartoon letters on the wall.  I’ll let her paint over it, I assure her.  We both smile. 
She is growing up.
 I pretend not to notice.

Nintendo World is a glaring-sterile salon for the serious gamer who needs nothing more than a less-than comfortable, plastic chair (curved to limit the length of each visit) and the company of intimate strangers.  There is a wall lined with tall bar stools spaced along glass counters for people to play the newest Pokémon game on Nintendo DS.  Up the circular staircase, there are pod-like personal WII stations obscenely close to one another.  It’s a specific type of cool.  My daughter doesn’t own a WII and she doesn’t like Pokémon. 

She’s not discouraged.  There was a time she would have been.  My little girl is growing up; I’m going to have to notice. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Look Down When You Walk: A Lesson Learned and Forgotten

I said my goodbyes, locked the door and practically ran down the twenty-eight stone steps. If I hurried to the car, sped down the street, and raced along the highway I would still be late—but I had to try.

I slid into the car, placed one foot—ever ready—on the brake pedal, began closing the car door and sniffed: shit, literally.

Between stepping off the last step and stepping in to the car, one of my feet had sunk sole deep into a pile of dog poop.

I didn’t have a dog.

I tiptoed up the steps, kicked off both shoes and leaving them outside, I rushed back in the house. Armed with paper towels and cleanser I tried scraping the offending goo from my shoe but stuck for time, I searched for other shoes to match my outfit. Ten minutes later I was again at step twenty eight.

I scraped residue of poop off of the brake, tossed the wasted paper into the trash can, slid in the car, turned the key, sniffed and inhaled deeply.

I had cleaned the poop from my car but not from in front of the car door; I had stepped in it again.

There’s a moral here about cleaning up other people’s messes; not letting your dog poop where you aren’t planning to scoop; and there’s probably a dating lesson in here too.

“I can’t believe you still don’t look down when you walk,” my youngest laughed.


That was probably the lesson I was supposed to learn. 

Call for True Stories on the theme Empty Nest

November's Stories at the Stories theme is "empty nest" We're looking for true stories about kids, parents, and partner...