Monday, May 28, 2012

WHAT IS IT that we are really supposed to remember on Memorial Day? Is it the memory of each individual who gave their lives so that we could go about our day today? Safe to board a plane, take a trip, safely sail a boat off the southern tip of the US along international waters?
Is it the relative no one really talks about anymore? Who in World War two gave his life for his country, a mere 18 year old who really thought he would be back for Christmas? The boy who in letters only wrote about funny tales about the guys who he then called brothers, who made funny faces or ate something gruesome or the cigarettes he requested to be in his next care package. He didn’t write about how afraid he might be, only how he carried the radio, how he liked to go first, before the troops, to scout, clear his head. He never got to report back about how he felt as his weight, even on tiptoe, triggered that click. 
I’ll bet the family of the one behind him, who had time to maneuver away just before that boy released his weight from the last sound he would ever hear, if he is still alive, is thinking and remembering that boy. 
I have never thought that perhaps some of those in his troop might still be alive today. He would have been just a bit older than his sister, who passed away just a year or so ago.  She didn’t die of old age. 
She remembered him each and every day of her life, but with a sadness that I can only imagine escalated during Memorial Day. 
His death not only triggered the death of his mother, who would only a dozen years or so later, die of a broken heart, but it also began the life of my mother as it is today. 
I remember him because without the sacrifice that he made, I would not be here, my mother might have not been adopted.  She was the bundle that would shine a few rays into the family just before that new mother would die when their little girl was only 9. 
I received my name because of that boy. I was given his mother’s name.
I might have been a Beth, a Carlos. Who knows where life would have shifted had he not been a hero.
It makes me humble. It also brings shame. Maybe not to most, but to think of those who came before, who took our rights and our country seriously. We do not stand fully aware at football games when the flag is flying overhead. We do not put our hands over our hearts and stand as our television broadcasts end as I used to see my grandfather do.
Our children’s broadcasts never end.
Every bit of history is yet a blip, a glimpse of something similar to a slightly colored James Bond movie. Any story of war is something in black and white, a boring snippet of something they do not understand.
At my son’s Honor’s Day there were so many scholarships to hundreds of colleges. These kids come from one in of the best schools in our state. I cried as leaders in our military announced scholarships with some of the highest honors to West Point, The American Academy, and places I had only thought of for troubled teens. In my past, that was where the challenging ended up!  
I didn’t grow up knowing anyone in the military nor did I understand the sacrifices. I was not taught about it. I was not exposed to it. I just played in the back yard with matchbox cars which graduated to “riding around” in high school. Another freedom given to me by those who fought Iran at the time.
I am so humbled as I meet boys my son’s age, willing to go to a desert place, to Iraq, Afghanistan, wherever the country leads them to fight for my right to sit here on a beach in South Alabama on a day when many of them are being deployed. 
I want my children to know that America has NOTHING to do with what is going on in the world. Our German exchange student knows three languages. All around the world American’s expect to just show up and others will speak English. I too am guilty of this mindset.
This Memorial Day I plan to reflect, but I also plan to make some changes in the attitude  and awareness of myself and my family. Just down the road and even on the waters in front of this house, every year the Blue Angels train. They train not to entertain us once a year at a flight show, but to protect our borders in case of attack. 
How shallow my views have been. It is like blinders rise and all around I see people choosing to live in government housing so their wife or husband can fight for our country. Their children go overlooked by many who vow to feed the homeless or some other charity. The military is, after all, a choice, a chosen lifestyle. They should be the ones making money on Wall Street, given the highest salaries, the best opportunities. 
There are a number who recently returned wounded. A friend took them on a hunting trip where they could get together with others like them who were facing a new life at home with new challenges and restraints. Men who were our most capable, strong, mighty, returning in wheelchairs because that is what they chose to do.
When you see a veteran, a soldier returning in the airport, a raised flag, or one at half mass, what are you going to tell your children, your friends about what that really means? What can we all do to REALLY remember those on Memorial Day.
Even a humbled thank you is not enough.
May 28, 2012
Allison Adams

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


It has been said by the authority on life that a triple strand cord stands above one trying to hold on alone (or something like that). I have been living that solitude, at least in my writing for some time now. I have been wearing my other mask, in group form, with fellow artists, going to seminars, learning techniques, dabbling in my paints for the past few months. I had let the writing fall by the wayside thinking of all of the saturation in the market.

This morning as I read my "daily pages" I ran across a book I recently downloaded. There on the page was a quote about writing. It pointed out that Renaissance men wrote Sonnets, not to get them in a magazine or to show they had talent, but "because they wanted to tell a certain lady they loved them. His chest was full of an uncomfortable pent-up feeling that he had to express." (from IF YOU WANT TO WRITE)

I found a similar momentum in the passion of Birmingham writers last night.  I attended a seminar organized by the brainchild of the Birmingham group they recently called SEE JANE TWEET!  or SEE JANE WRITE! as it was founded to be called by Javacia Harris Bower.

I was so energized by the positive "strands" of writers who conjugated together to ignite a spark in freelancing's future. Writers have all been told in the past that opportunity has been made stagnant by downsizing and a slowing economy. But like eating, I know that people "gotta read".  And that is evident online as blog posts light up the internet highway each and every day, whether midnight here or midnight across the globe, by sunrise all over this earth, people are surfing for information and muse to start their day. I was so excited after the meeting of maybe 50 people from across Birmingham that I vowed to never put down my pen again!

I have been on a sort of writing sabbatical. I have scribbled in my journals, written letters to people who didn't desire my sorted knowledge about what they needed in their lives that I so willingly revealed, I have penned a few songs I still can't get my son to put music to and have dabbled in a few poems after a brief moment when I came across some old school pieces I had attempted to craft more than twenty years ago. But I have forgotten the heart of writing, the story.

So today I dusted off a few that have been in my writing vault, sent them out. I vowed to not only look at life behind the lens of my camera, but to sift through the rubble of every adventure and find the story.

For now, the summary to the meeting will have to suffice. I took the notes last night and by 10:30 pm had it all outlined so I could remember. I share it here with you. Whether you are a fellow writer, an artist or a photographer, there are so many publications that feed our love for knowledge and new things.

Pinterest and photo sites are great for whisking through ideas and getting visual images of dream spaces and organizing ideas but the writer is the one who makes it all become something more than a picture of something that could be. A writer is there to unearth the why, the how and to weave a story just as those who told folk tales or shared chords that travelled up the mighty Mississippi to become todays r and b tunes did on late nights on city streets across the south.

The writer is the writer because that is what writers do. They write.

If you have ever wanted to be a writer, now is the time. But do it because you love to write, whether on a blog, in a love letter, in a journal.

According to IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, "no writing is a waste of time. With every sentence you write, you have learned something."  I say write every morning to sift through the stuff of life and watch as you learn more and more about yourself. This will also give you the space and clarity to learn more about the world around you.

What have you got to lose?

Here are the notes from the meeting:

Thanks so much for organizing this workshop. I wanted to share my notes on the meeting. I hope anyone who wasn’t there will be able to find some interesting information.
Thanks again!
Allison Adams
Tonight several dozen members of the creative group called See Jane Write gathered at the Homewood Library, many after a full commitment at their day jobs to find out more about the opportunities in Freelance Writing. 
This was the sixth event for the group that was founded by ASFA school teacher Javica Harris Bowser.  She has a strong presence in social media with blogs, facebook fan page and twitter presence. All attendees were invited to tweet during the meeting at #sjwbhm for those who were unable to make it. While the group is for women, she welcomed the men who joined in the event with open arms.
Four panelists from a variety of local publications shared their opinions on questions gathered throughout the week from participants as they registered using Eventbrite.
Javica introduced each member of the panel in a way that exuded her enthusiasm about writing and writers. The spirit of encouragement was confirmed with clapping from the audience eager to soak in any nugget of information before the panel even began to speak.
Panelists are listed in number order below and their comments are noted after each question using their number as reference.
  1. Carla Jean Whitley- Managing Editor- Birmingham Magazine and freelancer for Bookpage.
  2. Chianti Cleggett- freelance writer for Birmingham Magazine, Workplace, NAACP and other publications
  3. Kate Agliata- Editor
  4. Glenny Brock- Editor Weld Magazine, Birmingham’s newest weekly newspaper
Q:  What is the best way to present yourself in a query letter. What would you want to know about a person interested in writing for your publication?
  1. Mrs. Whitley receives numerous queries. She suggested having great ideas. She encouraged demonstrating your writing ability in your query and asked that you include writing samples.  She invites offers to take editors for coffee, saying that especially students who need direction are always open to contact her. One note:
   “Don’t send academic papers.”
  1. Have creative, unusual stories. Say Mrs. Breck, not Mr. You should do enough
    research enough to know that the editor is a female if that is the case. She   
    encourages you to research the publication, know the publication, and check back   
    issues to be sure you don’t duplicate an idea that has been implemented.    
    Proofreading is key.
  1. Kate suggested you familiarize yourself with the individual sections of the publication to see how your writing would have specific appeal to their readers. 
  2. She was an editor for both Birmingham Magazine and Birmingham Home and Garden Magazines. They would accept blog posts as clips if there was a lack of experience if it adheres to the style of the publication and shows the writers ability.
Q:  What do you look for in a good pitch?
  1. A good story is key. A sample lead is ok. She invites a casual note with an angle if it is interesting and wants to writer to get her excited about the idea.
  2. Kate prefers that you keep it brief and encourages new statistics or data that would prove the appeal to readers.
  3. Pitch a good source and have specific organization.
  4. She is also a freelance writer and suggests you know a magazine’s style and what the editor likes. Let people know you love to write.
Q: Advice for how to get your foot in the door to write for a publication:
  1. Ask an editor to coffee to get more information on their needs. Prove you are capable.
  2. She had been interested in a national magazine and made a call to find that the editor knew her from a prior experience with another magazine. Chianti shared tips from The One Minute Millionaire to keep on trying at least until the third “no” before giving up. 
  3. Don’t overdo it but persistence does help. Remember that sometimes an email gets lost or it is a crazy work week. Don’t take it personally.
  4. Study mastheads in the bookstore (hierarchy) Sometimes you can tweet and make a connection with an editor.
Q: Is there another way to discover which sections are open to freelancers?
  1. Look at more than one issue. Birmingham Magazine has many freelance opportunities, but there are also regular contributors. You won’t get their assignments. 
  2. Established publications have standard guidelines, usually online. Mental Floss and Oxford American both have great examples of guidelines. 
Q: Do you find value in Writer’s Market Publication?
  1. Usually use if looking for something specific but much of it is on the websites.
  2. It gets overwhelming, like reading the phonebook, but valuable for browsing.
  3. It was exciting to see how many publications are out there.
Q: Tips to generate good ideas:
  1. If you are interested in learning more about something it is probably a good idea.
  2. Read a lot, watch television, check out new magazines. Every topic, even the news can be expanded to be local from national or from a national slant to your local area.
  3. Two best tips from a professor are “write what you know” and “develop an expertise in something and write about that” and she also added, “READ”. 
  4. The best way is to have a lot of ideas. Be specific and see stories everywhere. A past editor taught her to interview and he would ask questions so that each of the interviews might be paired with other interviews with similar experts that might be spun into ten stories. He was a hunting writer and also taught her, “Use every part of the animal.” (do so in writing)
  5. Keep a notepad with you at all times.
  6. Don’t be afraid to hear no.
  7. Think outside the box.
  8. Localize and Nationalize all stories.
In the next year there will be a number of 50 years anniversaries of monumental events in Birmingham. Find a national publication that will be interested.
Q: Is it possible to freelance and make more than enough to live on Ramen noodles?
  1. Yes lots of people are being published.
  2. It is hard but possible. It is like having two jobs: one hunting for work, the other for writing. But editors can be lazy so if you have photos, captions, prove your ability and have headlines you just might be her favorite writer. Know that sometimes editors aren’t being paid and have back invoices they are waiting on. If you haven’t been paid, be patient.
  3. HGTV Website pays 30-90 days after the story runs and sometimes there are variations.
2)She suggests doing work efficiently and getting it in before deadline so editors know to send work to you. 
  1. She has always been paid on time.
Q: How does time management fit into your career?
  1. A staff job helps and so do reminders. Google docs is great because you can get your work anywhere. 
  2. Procrastination is apparent. I have an entrepreneur coach. Even when I am not writing I am working on it in my head.
  3. She works from home and has a specific area for work that is distraction free. 
  4. It is a struggle for her and she told about a program called freedom that puts timers on social media so it locks you out.
  5. Divide hours into research, writing or managing website. Going from one thing to another is less productive.
  6. Sometimes when you are out you can be doing research.
Q: What options are available for invoicing if you aren’t being paid?
  1. Would follow up in a day or so after it was due.
  2. Have been burned twice by local startup publications. Her policy is only to write for them once.
  3. Be pro-active and sign a contract. Know their policy. You can also make your own contract.
  4. Meet first with the person who contacted you.
  5. Sometimes the editor might be unaware and you can contact accounting. It may be a simple lack of paperwork.
Q: How long should you write for free?
  1. She did a national book review for free to get the job. 
  2. She volunteers some writing for small groups to get her name out, usually 2-3 articles a year.
  3. Exposure is invaluable.
  4. We all blog for free. There is a cost but it is a great value when you get your work out.
She volunteers for the Lyric Theater fundraising. 
Q: Best piece of advice you have received on Freelancing:
  1. On writing in general, Bird by Bird says EDIT EDIT EDIT shitty first drafts.
Keep asking, “Then what?”
  1. Echo- EDIT. Be open to different ideas.
  2. Write what you know. Write every day, even if for 5 minutes.
  3. See stories everywhere.  Follow your curiosity.  Talk to other writers.
Q: Class recommendations?  Workshops? Organizations?
  1. Networking with See Jane Write!
  Write Club at the Hoover Library. Alabama Bloggers. Birmingham Blogging Academy. Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Writers Conference.  Lucy Jaffey Women Writing for Change. 
  1. Journalism class at college.
  2. Alabama Media Professionals
Q: Standard Rates:
  1. Varies, approximate/ word assigned.
  2. Most already are set. Niche pays by the hour.
  3. Varies, written for lump sum and depends on amount of research and interviews.
Quantify your increase in readership.
  1. Smaller pieces are $75- larger pieces to $500.
Q: Lead times:
  1. Pitches are three months out. 
  2. Know the publication and audience as well as deadline schedules. 
  3. Weekly. Calendars are great sources of story ideas. Every single event can be a story.
Q: How do you set up your business as a freelancer?
A number of audience participants suggested using Alabama State Bar for LLC forms and to protect yourself in case of a lawsuit. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I have been taking some time to re-connect with the writer within.

Recently I attended an art therapy journaling workshop where we learned about Grief Therapy through artwork. I am working on summarizing that exercise and will share it here when I complete it.

I also recently completed an online workshop by Mari L. McCarthy on 27 Days of Journaling to Heath and Happiness. (

In 1993 I took a writing workshop at Mississippi State University taught by Rebecca Hood-Adams. We studied the book WRITING DOWN THE BONES,  a book I have carried around with me through various moves and life changes. This book was referenced in Mari's class as well.

It has been so long since I followed the advice of Natalie Goldberg (in Writing Down the Bones) or Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way) in taking time each morning to finish 3 pages of writing.

If we journal for three pages (no more, no less- 8 1/2 X 11 one side), we are able to sift through the clutter. Mine often began as to do lists or snippets of ideas.  By the end of the 27 days I was writing short essays about events or milestones (my son graduating from high school) or the birds outside. I wrote a poem, my first since Ossabaw over a year ago. I felt the songs I have buried deep within beginning to gurgle with interest.

My thoughts during the day almost "skip past the mundane" and jump right into problem solve mode based on what I wrote or pondered that very morning or maybe the day before.

I have come up with ideas for paintings, house plans, dreams of the next hopefully 45 years, as tomorrow I turn 46!

For a while my life consisted of moves no fewer than every two years. I grew up in my childhood home and remained there all through high school. A few weeks ago I went back to stay with my mom.
"You never come home anymore," she told me.

At 46 with four children, an exchange student, two dogs and a cat and a husband who likes to live life in overdrive....sometimes it is great to come home.

I perused through my old closets, my notes and photos. My memories of things that mattered so much to me at the time that "I might just die!" that now my 16 year old and 18 year old are experiencing.  They still live within my heart and probably many of them are some of my fondest of times, but they are only kept alive in my journals and in my own recollection of what those times meant.

This year marks the longest I have been anywhere (in the same house) for more than two years since college and this year I will have been here 8 years.  We just put our house on the market, our lake house too, with the idea that we are ready to do a bit of what European writer Lynn Huggins-Cooper calls DOWNSHIFTING TO THE GOOD LIFE.

We are not sure where we are headed but we are excited at the thought, both my husband and I, of something green, open fieldish, with horses and a slower pace. I feel certain that will become something that as I am journaling, we will figure out in detail. One thought has already surfaced in my reading of magazines and journaling and that is that we want to build using only AMERICAN MADE PRODUCTS.

I encourage you, if you don't journal, to dig deeply within the confines of your memory and unleash some of those moments that made you. There are some that change us for the better, some that hurt, but they are all uniquely ours and something to preserve for all time, if not in truth, in fiction or perhaps a lesson to those who follow us. And then journal towards WHERE YOU WANT TO BE or WHO YOU ARE IN YOUR CORE so that you won't waste precious years living someone else's life.

I still read the journals my mother's mother kept. She died when my mother was 9. I would never have known anything about the woman who bears my same name if she had not scribbled favorite quotes. Although her scribbles look more like calligraphy than doodles. I can touch the page where she neatly planned for the blank book at the beginning "1917 This book belongs to Catherine Allison".

And then I look at my pile, my stack of journals. One to three every year since I was 5 and writing "we played barbies, we jumped on the tramp" and I wonder if my children will ever be curious about what I might have done or thought or dreamed.  I wonder if they will see the paths that took me off course of be able to identify the ones that sent me on this path where I am today?

Perhaps they won't need all the nasty little details but this spring I have taken the time to read through all of them, even the ones during my divorce, and understand myself and others in a new light.

We all are focused on the circle that immediately surrounds us unless we agree to take off the blinders and look at life through a broader perspective.  Our journals help us do just that by removing the I on the pages so we can focus on the life going on around us during our precious moments that we call days.

I hope you will join me in journaling this week and let me know what you have found.

Perhaps you too might decide it is time to get to the core of who you are and just what this life means to you and be packing up all the stuff and heading to greener pastures.

Blessings and happy journaling!




10-11:30 EACH DAY

MONDAY- JUNE 11 WATERCOLOR- BRING A PHOTO OF A HOME- (interior room or exterior)
watercolor process explained, perspective, we will do one together


WEDNESDAY- JUNE 13- ACRYLIC- ABSTRACT WITH PALETTE KNIFE 8 1/2X11 canvas provided or you may bring your own larger

THURSDAY-JUNE 14- COLOR COLOR COLOR! STILL LIFE WITH FABRIC DESIGNS INCORPORATED  acrylic (graphic design incorporated into painting)
8 1/2 X 11 canvas provided

Email at to register
All ages

We will also have a PARENTS PAINT PARTY on Thursday June 14 at 6 PM $30 includes canvas, 
instruction, light refreshment (byob) 

Call 205-914-2400 with questions.