Twitter talks back — sort of

sheriff clarke
Image description: A notice from Twitter advising that my report against David A. Clarke. “ Our investigation found this account in violation of the Twitter Rules.”

Diverse groups — including women, LGBTQ people, Muslims, African Americans — have been increasingly targeted by online harassment and hate speech. For example, the Anti-Defamation League, one organization that tracks hate speech, found a sharp rise in anti-Semitic  online content since the 2016 presidential election. Over the past year, like many other people, I’ve been moved to report hate speech and threats of violence I see on Twitter. In response to an onslaught of such reports, Twitter tightened up its rules. Here’s the current Twitter statement about violence, which went into effect about a month ago.

Violence: You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism. You also may not affiliate with organizations that — whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform — use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes. We will begin enforcing this rule around affiliation with such organizations on December 18, 2017.

And here’s the rule about what I call hate speech.

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. Read more about our hateful conduct policy.

One of the Twitter users I reported was David A. Clarke, the sheriff who’s known for wearing fake military medals and for claiming he’ll be hired by 45 any day now. Clarke’s Twitter account was, in fact, suspended at the beginning of this year, but he was back online after deleting a few offensive tweets. Twitter’s message to me came almost 20 days after they’d reinstated him.

I still believe Clarke’s tweets threatened violence, but now I’m wondering why Twitter chose to sanction him and not (apparently) the other users I reported, who were all white men. Clarke, not surprisingly, has pooh-poohed his sanctioning, inviting readers to visit his web page, which he calls “Twitter censor-proof.”

Should I, or you, continue to report tweets that are hateful or that threaten violence? Do we really need more laws and regulations? Do we have a responsibility to help create community standards for acceptable social media speech?

Street, Swim, Stir, and Send Your Stuff Out

SWWIMWinter has been good to my poems, with one little baby out in the world in Stirring, and another out in SWWIM, and two out in Street Light Press. But aside from the fact that all these journals begin with the letter “S,” is some other similarity playing a quiet tune here?

When I get a piece published somewhere, I read the entire issue of the journal. Inevitably, I’ll come across a poet whose work sings to my existing tastes or whose work surprises me. (Check out Carolee’s poem in Stirring, for example!) This, in turn, will often push me to read more work by those poets, in other journals, which, in turn, gives me ideas for new places to send my work.

Submitting work to journals and contests and publishers (lions and tigers and bears) is one big pain in the ass. First, you have to locate journals that are a good match for your work. My go-to spot for that is Trish Hopkinson’s blog, A Selfish Poet.

Then come the tasks like record-keeping and filling out online forms, not to mention opening yourself up to rejections. If you’re like me, and you get lots of rejections, you need to know about lots of journals.

What makes submitting easier? Two things come to mind: a system and some sisters.

Some writers use Duotrope to keep track of their submissions. Others use their own record-keeping systems.

New online communities for writers seem to pop up daily. I’m drawn to those that are Women who submitcreated by and for women, like Women Who Submit on Twitter, which offers info on open submissions and “submission parties,” both F2F and virtual.

Where do you go for information and strategies on sending out your work? Help us out here, so we can get back to the fun part – the writing.

The Year of Now

At my deskNow is the time to write.

I’ve dreamed of living a life of reading, learning, and writing since I was a young girl, and this is the year that my dream becomes a reality. Although my jobs over the past 40+ years often allowed me to make use of my writing and research skills, I’ve struggled to make time outside of the workday for creating my own poems, essays, and stories.

I did the getting-up-at-5 am thing, and the hustling-to-complete -a-manuscript-during-academic-breaks marathons, and the-writing-at-night-until-your-eyes-close, all of which were fruitful, but exhausting. I knew, all along, that the only way to have enough time for writing everything I wanted to write was to make it my full-time vocation, and that’s the destination I’ve been working and saving toward all my life.

I mention the working and saving part because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m some daring iconoclast. I’m a sixty-year-old woman with two chronic medical conditions, and I worry about health insurance as much as the next person. But 2018 is the year I stop living in fear, the year I stop trading what could be my writing time for the security of a full-time job working for someone else, the year of now.

Resigning from my position with the Women’s Economic Stability Initiative at Santa Fe College has been a difficult decision, and not just because I’m letting go of the paycheck and benefits. My co-workers there are now friends — some of the kindest, bravest women I know. In helping program participants to achieve their career dreams, I felt good about being one of many people working to change the economic inequities that exist in our community. And, I learned a lot about employment trends and the challenges faced by older workers.

It’s not the first time I’ve jumped into an entrepreneurial role, but my jumping skills are a bit rusty. In 1982, at the age of 23, I started a law practice in the Boston area and financed it at first by part-time bartending. After fifteen years and two more graduate degrees, I left the practice to devote myself to teaching writing and critical thinking skills to college students here in Florida, out West, up North, and in Japan.

As a freelancer, I’ll continue to write memoir, poetry, and researched political articles, but I’ll also be offering concise, accurate, audience-centered content to nonprofits and businesses. Wish me luck! And affordable health care for all!




Six Books Your Inner Activist Won’t Feel Guilty About Reading

libraryBack in the day, whenever life got too crazy-making, my go-to refuges were the library and the bar. On a really bad day, I might visit both. Although bars don’t figure prominently in my life now, I still turn to libraries for safety, for diversion, and for an atmosphere of reason. I turn to books in hope of making sense of this crazy-making world, or my own crazy-making brain. And I turn to books to better understand evil, a purpose more imperative now than at any other time in my sixty years on earth.

In the last year, I’ve read some spectacular books. In this same period, I’ve witnessed unthinkable attacks by the American government on Americans, and on American values of community, compassion, and equality. I haven’t felt at ease in reading for pleasure only. Staying alert, informed, and active has taken on a new urgency for me – but man-oh-man do I need the escape of being swept up in someone else’s story.

The books listed here (in no particular order) both pulled me into their stories and explicitly engaged me with the public world. They gave me strength and bits of wisdom to carry back to the fray, and they gave me a more comprehensive understanding of some of the major issues we face in the 21st century: patriarchal violence, racism,  environmental degradation, and the legacies of personal traumas  visited on our communities.

Stamped  Stamped from the Beginning: a history of racist ideas by Ibram Kendi

I heard Dr. Kendi read from his book while he was still on the faculty at University of Florida, near where I live. He is an incandescent speaker who connects easily with his audience, and he strikes a conversational tone in the book as he imparts the history of racism. Dr.Kendi’s thesis is fresh, and clear: racist policies create racist ideas and beliefs, and they all feed on each other. I was a history major in college, and I’ve read widely since then on the history of the South, but I’ve never had that history presented to me through this lens. The book made me question myself and my community and commit to anti-racist work.

hunger  Hunger by Roxane Gay

Like Roxane Gay, I’ve written memoir, so one thing that truly fascinated me about this book was watching her choices as a writer, and how she built suspense by telling the reader what she wouldn’t reveal – and then, sometimes, revealing it. Aside from the craft lessons the book contains, the story of Gay’s hunger, her relationship to her body, and the wider culture’s reactions to her is engrossing. In some sections, I felt swept up into her life and thought, and throughout the book I found my assumptions about trauma and body image both reinforced and challenged. This is a book of significant complexity.

Barkskins  Barkskins by E. Annie Proulx

Sometimes I want a long book I can fall into. At 736 pages, Proulx’s latest novel is one of those, and although it took me a while to get through it, whenever I picked it up, I was right back in the scene. Proulx is a demon for facts, and in reading, I learned a whole lot about the timber industry’s beginnings, and what might be its end. This is a family chronicle drawn inside the human dream of entitlement – entitlement to resources, entitlement to the earth’s bounty, entitlement to profit. By necessity, then, it lays out the history of depletion.

The Enchanted  The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

This novel explores the interior life of a man on death row, revealing bit by bit the events that led to his incarceration. In the process, Denfeld reveals that yes, we are all of us human, no matter our crimes or our fantasies. Without ever falling into a didactic mode, the story keeps insisting on the deep connections we all share. I was wholly in the spell of this book.

childfinder  The Child Finder — also by Rene Denfeld

It was a happy day when I came across Denfeld’s work, and the prospect of a third novel by her makes me even happier. The Child Finder is a can’t-put-it-down puzzle. Together with the protagonist, you will be frantic to find the missing child. Beyond the compelling plot line, the novel offers insights into the nature and longevity of trauma and the ways that our personal obsessions can bleed into our work.

A Little Life  A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I listened to this book in 15 minute increments on my commute to and from work. This was probably a good thing; it allowed me significant breathing room between sessions. Informed by violence, this novel still manages exquisitely tender depictions of friendships among five men who meet as college students. One friend, Jude, survivor of a horrendous childhood, is both the protagonist and antagonist of this story. His struggles, his intelligence, and his decisions will stay with you.

* * *

I wish all of us all the best for 2018.

It’s winter now, even here in North Florida where I write from. We’ve earned a little respite. Time to snuggle down with a good book.

Book on World off

Political Poetry

This week, two of my more political poems were published in the international journal VillageatWexfordEntranceTuck. One of them, “Hilton Head November,” caught the attention of a reporter for a regional publication that serves Hilton Head and surrounding communities. I visited Hilton Head one month after Hurricane Matthew and a week after the 2016 presidential election. One thing I saw –

At a great pine blow-down,

walls ripped aside like playing cards

expose gated communities

as if they were mere women.

The reporter contacted me to do an interview about how the poem came to be and whether it was critical of Hilton Head’s affluence. He thought my perspective might interest readers and offer a different viewpoint from the ones they usually come across.

In the course of working in English Departments at various colleges and universities, I’ve heard many a screed against mixing politics and poetry. Not surprisingly, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, these diatribes were often directed at women writers (Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde) who “used” poetry to transmit political messages about the women’s movement, lesbian culture, and race and class divisions. Some literary critics have argued that any attempt to insert a message into a poem violates the purity of poetry as an art form.

I find these arguments specious at best, and I love using an academic word like “specious” (means “seems right at first glance, but actually wrong” or “attractive on the outside, but deceptive) to describe them. Audre Lorde once said “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” and I believe her, but I still love throwing the master’s words back at him. Hard.

Poetry, like all of the arts, has always been used to advance political positions. Poetry, like all of the arts, is by nature impure. All kinds of nasty stuff gets mixed into the creative process.

Consider two artists who are dead and beyond reproach: Michelangelo and Shakespeare. Michelangelo painted for the Renaissance-era Catholic Church, a powerful political force. He created images of God and other characters from the Bible that provoked a useful and appropriate sense of awe in the populace. Many of Shakespeare’s plays center on political institutions (monarchy, anyone?) and struggles for control. It’s nothing new.

Political poetry is experiencing a resurgence in Trump-era America, and I’m grateful. It challenges our assumptions and brings us together as we speak and act against the injustices and oppressions of yesterday and today.

audre adrienne meridelBut don’t get me wrong: I’m also a true believer in the power of confessional literature to widen our understanding of what it means to be human. I admire the brave writers who examine their personal lives, bring old secrets out into the light, and share their desires, mistakes, and vulnerabilities. Because as I learned from the activist/theorist/artists/writers of the 1970’s and 1980’s, the personal – no matter how much we try to insist it’s unique – is always political.


Smart Move: Investing in 50+ Workers

Earlier this week, the Gainesville Sun published an op-ed 50+ for gville Sun November 2017I wrote about why Florida should be supporting its older workers. Investing in 50+ workers is a smart move for all states though — by 2022, 35 percent of the American workforce will be over 50 years of age.

Older job-seekers need training and education in high-demand skills to stay or become competitive in today’s job market. Ongoing training, especially in fast-changing technology, is a feature of today’s work environment for employees of any age.

Some older career-changers may also need general education training before they can succeed with specialized training for high-tech, knowledge-based careers.

Click on the link for the full article.

The Long Game – Facing Reality in the Environmental Century by Stephen Mulkey

Our efforts to respond to climate and biosphere disruption are part of the long game, a game that must be played over centuries, rather than decades. The so-called normal climate of the 20th century, which we use as our meteorological baseline, is gone forever. The Earth will not see such a climate again for millennia, if ever. The stark reality of our situation means that everything we do now is for the benefit of future generations that will occupy a massively transformed planet. Our target for building a sustainable civilization should be 2100 and beyond. In the face of progressive disruptions of the climate and biosphere and the associated losses and hardships, we must lay the foundation for a civilization capable of thriving under conditions never before seen in our evolutionary history.

via The Long Game – Facing Reality in the Environmental Century — The Environmental Century

Hurrichange is here

The Environmental Century

170907-hurricane-irma-katia-jose-satellite-njs-406p_c8851aa4245f314c3e93bb62fae72af6.nbcnews-fp-1200-80011:15 am EDT September 7. NOAA.

“So there is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it. You can accomplish a lot just by creating fear and panic, you don’t need a hurricane to hit anywhere.”
Rush Limbaugh 7 September 2017 a day before he evacuated from his South Florida home.

Late last week I left my comfortable, dry, overpriced apartment in Alexandria, VA, to return to my home in Gainesville, FL, to be with my partner Michele and our dogpersons, Heather and Keeper, as we face Irma. As I write this Sunday morning, projections continue to indicate that winds in North Central Florida will exceed any in memory for this region. It is likely that the destruction of infrastructure in the region will be severe. Lives will be lost. My heart goes out to Ft. Myers…

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Coming to terms with my inner hypervigilante

It’s thrilling to have a piece published by an organization you admire – so I’m especially delighted to have this essay in The Establishment, a groundbreaking online feminist magazine.


Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about my anxiety over the current political situation and how it was interfering with my writing life. This current essay is an expansion and revision of that original post, and like all forays into revision, I learned so much from the process.

In this case, I also learned so much from the questions The Establishment’s co-founder and editor Nikki Glouderman asked me. Those questions forced me to dig  deeper into the research on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and hypervigilant behaviors and to further clarify my own thinking.

The traumas I suffered took place long ago, and I’ve often acknowledged those traumas in my writing. But, I’m very resistant to acknowledging anything that smacks of my weaknesses/disabilities/disorders. My identity depends on being a survivor, on rising above adversity. In revising this essay, I ended up admitting that PTSD gets in my way, and that it may always get in my way.  So thank you to Nikki and Est., and to the magic of writing and revision, for pushing me toward some self-awareness.