Boom project

Over a year and a month ago, a typo in a tweet that turned into something unexpected. In the airport waiting for a plane, I decided to tweet a bit about my short stint as a visiting writer at Elizabethtown college to process what had happened. But mostly, to process what I had said to students who asked me for writing advice. I can’t remember if I was typing quickly on my phone or if I was blissfully careless on my laptop. Either way, I ended up typing “boom” instead of “book.” That typo, the “m” rather than the “k,” became significant. At first, I didn’t realize my mistake. A couple of  lovely folks on Twitter tweeted at me to ask what a “boom project” was, and I reread my tweet and found the error. One person wondered if “boom project” was a new publishing term that they hadn’t heard of yet. No, it was just a mistake. Or was it?

I had been tweeting about a confession I made to a group of students (and two of their professors). In the Q & A in a class, a student asked me about how I write books and what new projects I was working on. Before I could stop myself, I admitted that book projects still frighten the bejesus out of me. The students looked at me and each other with varying levels of bewilderment and a nervous chuckle or two. I kept talking when I probably should have stopped. I wanted to be honest, so I explained that long projects, like books, still frighten (read panic) me. This fear remained strong, even though I’ve already written two books. Books are a long commitment for a writer, and long commitments often appear scary at the outset because who knows how they’ll actually turn out. Boom or bust. Luckily, I didn’t say the previous lines aloud. (more…)

Albums 21: Jesus Freak

Jesus Freak

Richard Newton

 

I wanted this essay to be about a different album, Pearl Jam’s superior sophomore effort, Vs. (1993), Zach Braff’s masterful Garden State soundtrack (2004), or Metallica’s beautifully risky S&M (1999). The playlist in my head shuffled through all of these, but none of them stuck with me long enough to write this essay.

The problem wasn’t the music. For a decade those albums have had a secure place in my rotation. Their lyrics always inspire. I’ve talked about all of them with complete strangers.  Simply put, I don’t need a reason to listen to them.

But this essay needed to be about an album I’ve struggled to listen to. This essay is about the songs I can’t stand  because they know too much about me. This essay is for the record that saw me through the times I could never forget and thus, choose not to return.

This essay’s for DC Talk’s Jesus Freak (1995). (more…)

Albums 20: So Open the Door

So Open the Door

Liana M. Silva

 

I looked through the small cloth cassette case full of cassettes I had saved over the years. I saw it, in the left row, a few tapes up from the bottom: a clear Sony HF 90. I hadn’t finished listening to one of the sides, judging by how the ribbon was split among the two spools.

On the A side, Moya had written the tracks from Nirvana’s Nevermind, and on the B side she listed Beck’s Mellow Gold. My friend’s handwriting, which I was always jealous of for its neatness and its angles, greeted me from the past, like a postcard. The white label had turned yellow and felt stiff. When I pulled out the cassette from its narrow place in the case, the label for Nevermind floated off. I’m not sure if I want to apply glue to put it back on the tape.

When I think of grunge I think of my friendship with Moya. Our friendship grew out of music. Moya and I met in the 3rd grade. That’s when I first remember spending time with her outside of class, on play dates at either my house or hers. I don’t remember a lot of hanging out with Moya in 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade. But in 7th grade, she and I became closer. We participated together in a talent show, and I spent more time with her on weekends working on homework or going to the movies. (more…)

My Favorite Essays of 2016

Last year, I pulled together my favorite essays that I wrote in 2015. This year I thought I would do the same.

While some writers like to direct readers to their most popular essays of the year, I like to remind you of the essays that proved to be my favorites. Some of the essays listed are essays that I still can’t believe that I wrote. I read them and wonder how those sentences landed in that particular paragraph in that particular essay. They make me proud because they show how far I’ve come as a writer. Other essays are the ones that I’m proud to have written because they felt impossible to write. They required me to step outside of my comfort zone, required new skills, or were hard to write because of the vulnerability and emotion that they required.

What’s striking to me is how much things have changed for me in 2016, this dumpster fire of a year. I thought 2015 was bad, but 2016 proved to be both worst and better. Last year, I had applied to an MFA program. Hannah, our 15-year-old dog, died in March. She missed 16 by a little more than a month. She witnessed my life, so I witnessed the end of hers. Some day, I’ll write about what she meant to me, to us, but not yet, I can’t.

By mid-year, I received a rejection. Over the summer, I curated a series of essays on albums and our feelings, which was pretty damn amazing. By fall, I became editor of Women in Higher Education.  In November, Tr*mp became president, and suddenly, my work on white supremacists seemed relevant. After Thanksgiving, I even had an op-ed published in The New York Times, which led to white supremacist trolls calling me a race traitor (and much worse) on Twitter and in email. (more…)

White Supremacists and Racism

For 11 years, I’ve been writing about white supremacists, white nationalism, and the Klan, but this is the first year my work appears to have wide cultural relevance. I’m unsure how to feel about this.

In 2016, after all, a Klan endorsed the Republican nominee, Donald Tr*mp, who will become the 45th president of the U.S. The alt-right, a white supremacist movement that the press had a hard time calling a white supremacist movement, rose to national attention. In March, I told my partner that Tr*mp’s candidacy would make an interesting contemporary afterword for Gospel According to the Klan, when I still didn’t imagine he could win the election.  The University Press of Kansas decided to publish a paperback version of Gospel this fall, and now, they’ve moved up the publication date from mid-March to late January and added a Kindle version, due to the “relevance” of my work.

This is a weird moment for me. I’m proud of my Klan book. I’m glad folks continue to read it. I’m happy and surprised professors continue to assign it in their classes. But, at the same time, my joy is tempered by the knowledge of why book is relevant right now. White supremacist organizations appear visible now in a way they haven’t in years (partially because folks quit paying attention to them), and so many of us are worried about their impact on the new administration and our country. Since November, I feel like I’ve only been writing and tweeting about white supremacists. Relevance means that (some) people are ready to listen to what I have to say about white supremacists. I refuse to pass up that opportunity. I refuse to be silent. I’m still not quite sure how I feel. (more…)