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The Power of the Pen

24 Feb

I wrote this post in May of 2012 after reading an article in the New York Times. Seems fitting since the Times was just barred from a White House press conference. Chilling…

Jilanne Hoffmann

I love the quote mentioned in today’s New York Times (5/14/2012), regarding a march instigated by a group of Russian writers just wanting to take a protest stroll (against Putin’s crackdown on dissent) through central Moscow without being harassed, beaten, arrested, etc. :

“Russian history is full of confrontations between leaders and writers, whom Stalin once described as ‘engineers of the soul.'”

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The 2nd Annual Valentiny Contest FINALISTS!!!

21 Feb

Woohooo! I’m a finalist! Check out the stories and vote for the one you like best! Woohoo!

Susanna Leonard Hill

Okay.  So this is the part where we pretend it’s Monday morning instead of Monday fashionably late evening 🙂

(Don’t look at the clock!  You’re only imaging that it’s nearly midnight and basically Tuesday for all intents and purposes!)

You have only yourselves to blame!

There we were. . .

Three innocent judges minding our own business, confident in our ability to choose a group of finalists for this contest, happily gobbling heart-shaped chocolates whilst sipping delicious coffee from writerly-themed mugs, glasses perched, pens in hand, ready to make informed decisions, and . . .

. . . WHAM!!!

We were blind-sided by such a landslide of unrivaled entries that we quickly found ourselves overwhelmed by awesomeness to the point where we had to drag in an extra judge to help settle disputes that threatened to become physically violent!

A certain amount of knock-down-drag-out-fighting confusion ensued over what, exactly

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Cupid’s Heart Finds a Home

11 Feb

Thought I’d come back to life for a moment and enter Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny story competition. Rules: 1) story must contain a character who is confused, 2) be no more than 214 words, and 3) be written for kids to enjoy. Well, maybe I’m entertaining and distracting myself, too, in these troubling times. So here’s my 214-word story….

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Cupid’s Heart Finds a Home

 

By Jilanne Hoffmann

 

Dear Stupid Cupid,

Last year, you gave me a green candy cane. I barfed. Please don’t do that again.

Disgustedly Yours,

Gertie

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Dear Hurty Gertie,

You hurt my feelings. It’s not nice to call someone stupid.

Sorry you’ve been sick. I know nothing about candy canes or the color green. I only know about chocolate, the color red, and hearts. Maybe you have me confused with someone else?

Cluelessly,

Cupid

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Dear Clueless and Confused Cupid,

Sorry to hurt your feelings, but I’m sure it was you. Speaking of red, you wear a red suit, don’t you?

Sincerely,

Gertie

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Dear Gertie,

No, I wear my birthday suit.

Warmly,

Bare-bunned Cupid

******************

Dear Birthday Suit Cupid,

Now I’m confused. My birthday’s in June, but I got the candy cane in December, along with a bunch of toys. Does your mom really let you go outside naked?

Flabbergasted,

Gertie

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Dear Gertie,

I have no family, no home. I’m just a lonely cherub, spreading love and chocolate around the world, not toys.

Sadly,

Cupid

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Dear Sad and Homeless Cupid,

Please come live with me! You can sleep in my room, and I’ll give you clothes to wear. We’ll hide the chocolates under my bed.

Your friend,

Gertie

********************

Dearest Gertie,

On my way! Happy Valentine’s Day!

All my love,

Cupid

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Now, if I were a lit major, I’d read between the lines and realize that this story is really about becoming a little less selfish and welcoming those who need a little extra love and support into our homes. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Spring Night (After Wang Wei via Robert Okaji)

10 May

Well, it seems I’ve been inspired by one of my favorite poets, Robert Okaji.

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Spring Night

(after Wang Wei via Robert Okaji)

 

Dogwood petals sigh in spirals, blessing my recline.

Spring darkness rests on hollow muted hills

while moonlight strikes the owls awake,

their hoots slipstreaming through ravines.

 

Unlike Robert, I named the birds and took liberties with the tree petals. I’m writing a new rhyming picture book right now, so this detour was a welcome respite. Feeling a little spring-feverish. Ahhh—ahhh—Cheers!

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Life, Love, and LTYM Show – San Francisco

21 Mar

When my son was three, he was fascinated by all things siren-related. One night in the Mission District of San Francisco, an ambulance was parked outside the restaurant where we were eating.

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No emergency, just hungry paramedics waiting for their “TO GO” order. 

When we left the restaurant, my son ran to the ambulance and peered inside the open sliding door. The next thing I knew, a paramedic was asking him if he’d like to see his heartbeat.

What! 

My son was too shy to agree, but I wasn’t. So the paramedic hooked me up to the heart rate monitor, and we all watched as a paper tape began unfurling from the machine.

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“This is what your mama’s heartbeat looks like when she’s loving you,” the paramedic said.

I still have the copy of that printout, but it’s stored in a box of my son’s baby memorabilia in the garage. Maybe I should frame it with the paramedic’s words and give it to my son for his 18th birthday. 

But I digress….I want to tell you about last night.

Listen To Your Mother – First Rehearsal

In a political environment bent on emphasizing our differences, I’d like to ask: What do all moms have in common, other than being female? Maybe the question should be “What do we all have in common”?

It’s that person whose food, body, and oxygen we shared for the first nine months of our lives. The heartbeat that will forever reverberate in our subconscious.

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MOM

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MOM

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MOM

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MOM

As I listened to ten women share their diverse stories of motherhood and then added my own voice to the mix, I contemplated just how wide and deep this ocean of experience is. And while each story is unique, I found myself nodding, laughing, or crying in recognition. The emotional core was all that mattered.

The joy, pain, anger, loss, fear, laughter, and—love. The love that lives and simmers below the surface of all those other emotions.

For those of you who can’t join us at the Listen To Your Mother show in San Francisco on May 6, 2016, LTYM will post the video of our performance (along with 40 other shows from around the country) on their national website.  When those videos go up, you’ll be the first to know.

Last year, the show sold out two weeks in advance. So I’ll let locals know as soon as they go on sale. But if you live in a city that’s hosting a LTYM performance, by all means GO!

I promise, it will be an amazing night, a celebration of the beating heart, otherwise known as life.

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Listen to Your Mother – San Francisco

14 Mar

It’s official!

I’ll be performing at the Listen to Your Mother show in San Francisco on May 6th!

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I had submitted a humorous essay last year but was too ill to audition for the show after the piece was selected. Not content to submit the same piece this year, I wrote a new 800-word essay that took me several years to write: five years to reflect on my experience and two weeks to commit to paper this past January.

What was I thinking? What was wrong with sticking to humor?

Me (well, a not so reasonable facsimile) when I began writing:

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Me (a more reasonable facsimile) after finishing:

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No, the essay has nothing to do with Norman Bates or chainsaws. And yes, there is a bit of humor in what would have been a thoroughly tragic story. 

I hope that those who hear it for the first time during the performance will be moved to think about those they love, the things their loved ones hold dear, and what those things signify in their relationships.

Looking forward to sharing the story with you all after the performance. For those who live in the Bay Area, I’d be eternally grateful if you come and cheer me on. Stay tuned for ticket sales info. Cheers!

Telling Details

24 Feb

I wrote this post a couple of days ago and accidentally hit the panic button. Sorry for the false alarm, but I didn’t want it to be published in the same day as my last post. Let me try this again…

Two days ago, I saw a woman get hit by a car, but I didn’t know that’s what I was seeing at the time. As I replay that moment again and again in my mind, I am shocked at how slowly I figured it out.

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The Intersection

I don’t remember seeing the car hit her. I just remember this:

Someone yelled. It was a rough, urgent, explosive bark. And then I saw a large pile of garbage lying in the street. Did you get that? Garbage. I’m still appalled that I thought a living, breathing human being looked like a pile of garbage.

It was dusk, just after sunset. I was on my way to pick up a pizza, and stopped at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. Then, the explosive yell, and there they were, black and white garbage bags flopping slightly, as if being blown by a puff of breeze, so gently. Two pedestrians raced toward the pile as it began to rock. They tried to help the garbage bags pick themselves up. But the best the pile could do was to droop to one side. One foot flopped. A hand pressed down against the street.

And then I figured out that the pile was a woman. With long, dark hair. She had been face down on the pavement, her hair pouring onto the street. She wore black pants and shoes and a cream-colored jacket, and she had been carrying a couple of black shopping bags. But her body parts weren’t arranged like a human walking across the street. They were upended, folded in on each other, crumpled and flopping without purpose. And the combination of black and white reinforced the image of garbage bags, litter that is so common in the city.

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I still tremble when I think of this, how quickly we can go from being human to being a pile of garbage. How our perceptions depend so much on context.

And since I’m a writer, I start thinking about how I can use this. The experience brings home how important it is to select the details of the stories we tell. Those details cement the belief that what’s being described has actually happened. Verisimilitude at its best. In this case, the accident did happen, and you believe me because of the details I’ve shared with you. I know that if I’m ever going to write a scene about someone who’s been hit by a car, I now have an inkling of how I will tell that part of the story.

But what disturbs me are two things: 1) that I can file this away so coldly to use in the future and 2) that I thought a human being was as pile of garbage. This is a horror from which I may never recover.

I am still shaking.

 

 

 

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