Focusing on what I can control

One of the many ways I’ve dealt with the past year’s uncertainty is to focus on what I can control. A lot of people practice this all the time. It’s not revelatory because, let’s face it, there’s a lot outside our control, and to rage against that reality is a great way to drive yourself into the ground. But I think it’s safe to say that some people are better at settling themselves this way than others.

Don’t get me wrong. The “focusing on what I can control” mantra can be twisted into a kind of privilege that allows you to ignore anything that requires effort. Or it can allow you to wash your hands of responsibility. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about things like, oh, say, not festering over how the pandemic has upended our lives and canceled events and such.

First, we must acknowledge that inconveniences are nothing compared to what many have had to bear. The losses have been heartbreaking. And with that understanding, inconveniences are nothing. Nothing.

And yet, change stings. Life has been so different. Since March 2020, I’ve had to cancel five conferences or retreats that I’d planned for more than a year. But you know what? It was doable. We’ve all pivoted.

Earlier this month, I co-hosted a day-long, virtual SCBWI-Wisconsin conference that was originally planned to be in person at a favorite retreat center on 90 acres of beautiful woods and water. Couldn’t happen. But you know what I could control? Deciding early to pivot. Becoming proficient at Zoom. Guiding people on how to join us. Connecting with others, which is what so many people say they missed most over the past year.

I’m grateful to see friends in squares on my screen, as that was once science fiction.  And I’m grateful for the vaccines, which have allowed us to see friends and family in person. Long past this pandemic, though, I’ll stick with the notion of focusing on what I can control. It’s a better use of my energies and helps me see what’s important.

I hope you enjoy these photos of the event. Be well.

 

Photo shows hosts and speakers of SCBWI-Wisconsin's Spring Studio virtual conference. Shown are webinar coordinator Joyce Uglow, co-regional advisors Silvia Acevedo and Deb Buschman, literary agent Christa Heschke, and author Stef Wade.

The start of SCBWI-Wisconsin’s Spring Studio virtual conference. Shown are webinar coordinator Joyce Uglow, co-regional advisors Silvia Acevedo and Deb Buschman, literary agent Christa Heschke, and author Stef Wade.

 

Photo shows co-host and speakers of SCBWI-Wisconsin's Spring Studio virtual conference. Shown are author and literary agent Zabé Ellor, host Silvia Acevedo, and editor Tiffany Shelton.

Literary agent Zabé Ellor, host Silvia Acevedo, and editor Tiffany Shelton.

 

Photo shows hosts of SCBWI-Wisconsin's Spring Studio virtual conference. Shown are co-regional advisors Silvia Acevedo and Deb Buschman.

Cohorts.

 

Photo shows host and speakers of SCBWI-Wisconsin's Spring Studio virtual conference. Shown are co-host Deb Buschman, author Stef Wade, and literary agent Christa Heschke.

Look at that great swag! A solar system poster that kids love.

 

Photo shows co-host Silvia Acevedo at the SCBWI-Wisconsin's Spring Studio virtual conference.

My computer really needs maaaany more stickers. 😉

Isolating in a time of nonstop isolation

Today I’m starting an adventure that looked so different earlier this year.

I’m at an isolated retreat at Write On, Door County, a non-profit that offers retreats not just for writers but for leaders of literary arts programs, in my case the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators-Wisconsin. It turns out I’m the first one to retreat here in the admin category! How cool is that?

I have a whole quiet house to myself on 40 acres. It’s interesting that people come here for isolation, and I’m coming here during a time of nonstop isolation. I’ve been seriously social distancing since March, so being here doesn’t feel quite like the getaway it might have been. However, I’m grateful for the change of scenery, the true quiet outside the city (no sirens!), and the immense darkness found in northern Wisconsin (no light pollution from neighbors’ garage lights or broadly arching street lamps!). Honestly, stepping outside at night I cannot see my hand in front of my face. It’s beautiful… and a bit unnerving. Yeah, I’m a city girl.

I’ll be really digging in to SCBWI-Wisconsin planning this week. We have one virtual event planned for early 2021, and we’re hoping the fall events can be in person. Optimism, folks. Meantime, enjoy some pix. 🙂

 

A giant gnome on the way to Door County because … just because.

 

Side view of The Coop from the trail behind the house

 

The Coop, the famed former writing studio of the late, great author Norbert Blei

 

Interior of The Coop with a well used writing desk

 

Interior of The Coop with a painting of Norb Blei

 

Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month starts Tuesday.

It’s always been a special time to acknowledge the history and contributions of the many people who make up the Hispanic/Latinx  community. With this year’s racial reckoning and social upheaval, I thought I’d share some data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Hispanics make up nearly 19% of the U.S. population. That’s almost 1 in 5. The demographics for children are already “majority minority,” meaning minorities make up the majority of people under the age of 18. To be tolerant of other groups now is to be tolerant toward America’s future leaders.

Especially in 2020, I feel it’s best to face facts.

Source: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2020/hispanic-heritage-month.html

A tribute to the UW-Madison’s Writers Institute

 

It is with a heavy heart that I share news of the end of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writers’ Institute. The 30-year-long literary conference is shutting down due to financial loss from the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s hard to express how much of a loss this is for the Wisconsin writing community. The Writers’ Institute was part of the university’s Division of Continuing Studies and provided more than a conference. It offered courses, certifications, workshops, retreats, and a welcoming, thoughtful community to writers of all genres. People from all walks of life, writing in all forms, came together for decades to improve their craft and find like-minded folks.

I’ve twice had the honor of presenting as faculty at the Writers’ Institute, and I posted some pix from those times below. I’ll miss being there again. But I know the UWM-WI community will carry on. Let’s make sure it does.

Thank you, Laurie Scheer, Laura Kahl, and Christine DeSmit, for creating this event and profoundly affecting so many lives.

If you have a Writers’ Institute story, I’d love to hear it! Send it to me in a comment, and, once approved, it’ll show up here. Write on.

Reflections on our times

Six months. It’s taken me six months to get back to my blog, this News section. My last post was about being awarded two literary residencies and the weight of expectations, yet it was hopeful. *I* was hopeful. But even as I wrote that entry, the coronavirus pandemic was spreading around the world. Here in Wisconsin, we were two weeks past a truly hellacious news week, the week I marked in my personal calendar as “Coronavirus hell week” because I knew the virus was going to be a much bigger thing than many of my non-news friends were thinking. The journalist in me wanted to keep track of the timeline of events.

Because I organize and run conferences and retreats for both SCBWI-Wisconsin and Fantasy Art Workshop, I paid extremely close attention to governmental reports, even more so than a newshound typically does. I watched as a few in-person conferences organized by others were held when they shouldn’t have been, and I watched as others were canceled.

My co-advisor for SCBWI and I decided to cancel our September 2020 conference as the contractual drop-out date was approaching. We knew that holding the event wasn’t worth the risk to either our members’ health nor the region’s finances should we have to cancel after the deadline. We made the right choice.

The tougher decision for me personally was to cancel the Fantasy Art Workshop Illustration Intensive, an annual week-long art retreat at a local college which my husband and I run. The decision wasn’t harder because I lacked the same concerns of health and finances. No. Our attendees’ health will always come first. What was tough about the decision was that I saw how the whole pandemic would pan out.

Oh, it’s easy *in hindsight* to say that I predicted its path. Even experts weren’t willing to conjecture during the throes of the crisis. The year 2020 changed our lives so profoundly. But I’m not talking about the nuances of the spread. I’m talking about the human nature side of it.

See, you can’t be a journalist for nearly 30 years and not learn something about human nature. You can’t be interviewing people all the time and not recognize the vastly different worldviews of people within different demographics. You can’t talk to people all the time as part of your job and not have seen growing economic and political polarization. You can’t be busting your butt to be fair in your coverage without noticing that other news organizations are doing the exact opposite and being handsomely rewarded by a viewership/readership that is sick of hearing the other side’s view.

So I predicted way back in February that there would be some sort of shutdown of movement, that it would be fairly effective in lowering the curve, and then society would reopen. I told my husband that by the time of our event in late June, the economy would have opened up a bit, and we would be *allowed* by the authorities to hold our event, whether it was morally right or not, but he rightly read that the mood of people in the creative industries would be against holding in-person events.

I couldn’t help but agree because I knew, once the shutdowns eased, that many, many people would rush back into the world, and why wouldn’t they? Some have no financial choice. Others would feel that enough was enough, they’d done their part, and anyone asking more of them was asking to sacrifice the economy. I knew this instinctively from all my years of reporting.

There is a segment of our population that is so fiercely individualistic, privileged, and nationalistic that they would never bow to the collective, especially if doing so went against their “don’t tread on me” attitude. And I knew there was a segment of our population that would be quite the opposite and would plead that everyone follow science as a moral imperative to stop the pandemic’s slaughter. They would hardly be applauded for it. In fact, they’d be jeered for their softness and blamed for fear-mongering hysteria. Such has been the history of millennia. It’s the hawks versus the doves. The suits versus the hippies. Choose your opposites for this exercise. You’ll find many parallels.

My predictions were no great revelation on my part. It was simply years of study and observation. I predicted a second wave in late summer, which would hinder the return to school. And I further predict how damaging virtual learning will be to the women’s movement, as it will be mostly women who will forgo their careers this year to stay home to teach. They’re incentivized to do so as they already make less on the dollar than men (assuming they have such a life partner), and women have already lost standing and the forward trajectory of their careers by being out of the workforce for months or years at a time having and rearing said children. I know of what I speak. I homeschooled (by choice, which means I had the luxury of preparation) for a decade. For all the talk corporate America does about supporting women, reality reveals a stark contrast.

Of course, we know how the virus has turned out. But what we didn’t know would happen is the racial reckoning spurred by the murder of George Floyd and the further brutality against other people of color, including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Joel Acevedo (no relation), and Dontre Hamilton.

If you think police aren’t given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to overreaching use of force, then you haven’t had to cover the police as a journalist. The account given by law enforcement is always given greater weight, most especially by the authorities charged with investigating those accusations. Oftentimes the media follows suit. In my decades of news, I’ve covered countless claims of abuse of force and seen far too few reports in which the authorities were caught and justice brought to bear — not because the force may not have existed, but because the brotherhood of protectionism often obstructs investigations. The authorities call their units a “force” for a reason and encourage citizen loyalty with supportive-looking slogans like “We back the badge.” But to back either side’s version as the default truth — or to swallow either side’s story without question or investigation — well, that’s not what ethical journalists do.

So with the pandemic raging, thousands marching worldwide against systemic racism, and an inept response to both, I did something wholly uncharacteristic of a writer. I stopped writing. So did many others. Working journalists kept on, as their paychecks and the world’s historical record depends on their great work. But my freelance journalism dried up. My will to write fiction did too. Few creatives — heck, few people overall — in those first months of the pandemic could hold it together.

We sewed masks, myself included, to give to nurses and other friends facing a deficit during an appalling lack of urgency by our national leadership to provide such items. Or we worked jigsaw puzzles to try to calm our racing hearts and slow the flashes of video-horror looping in our minds. Or we read books or watched TV to sink into any entertainment that could even temporarily numb our troubled souls. Or we leaned into that which brings us meaning. There was just so much anxiety. There continues to be.

But there is a new national conversation underway, one that is long overdue and vitally important. And that is another reason for hope. Caring people must always hope.

This summer, SCBWI hired an equity and inclusion officer to train its regional leaders (yours truly and many others) to be more inclusive among our ranks and have intent in our leadership. The demographics of children in the U.S. is now majority “minority.” In other words, most kids are nonwhite. Writers for U.S. children who purposely exclude people of color are not presenting the world as it exists today. As writers for children, we should strive to allow children who have been underrepresented in literature to see and read characters that are like themselves. And as writers for children, we have a special responsibility to not perpetuate stereotypes that do harm, especially when that literature is targeted to readers during their formative years. I’m grateful to be part of an organization that cares so much about its members and future generations.

This year has shaken the world. It is not hyperbole to say 2020 has brought us disease, death, financial calamity, worldwide street protests, racial violence, class wars, conflicts of conscience, and moral crises.

The coming autumn chill will drive us indoors. Its typical cold-weather illnesses threaten to join the virus. We will get through this crisis just as we have through other crises. But this whole essay begs the question: if we get through this crisis *just* as we have others, won’t the outcome be the same? Isn’t now the time to examine how we got here? Isn’t now the time to fix the systemic flaws that allowed both social injustice and the pandemic to flourish?

I beg you to look around you and see what you can do to alleviate injustice in your workplace, at your school, at your bank. And I beg you to care for yourself and others. We absolutely have it within our power to make the world a better place.

My First Residencies

Logo of "Write On Door County," an organization and retreat site promoting writing, reading, and literacy.

I’m really excited to announce that I’ve been awarded two writerly residencies! They’re set for December 2020 and September 2021, which I suspect will be here before I know it, but I’m thrilled with that because residencies are actually a dream come true for me. Allow me to explain.

Residencies take many forms, but, in general, they’re retreats awarded to creators, giving them not only a space to create but also the solitude to do so. Ask most creators, and they’ll tell you what they really need is uninterrupted time to advance their current project.

Write On, Door County is a non-profit located in gorgeous Door County, Wisconsin. WODC is dedicated to developing writers, helping them to set their stories onto the page. The organization also holds classes, readings, seminars, and conferences for everyone from school kids to residents at nursing homes.

I’m simply thrilled to say that, thanks to WODC, I’ll get not one but two week-long retreats to focus on things that are very important to me:

The first retreat is for Literary Arts Administrators, that is, an administrator of a literary arts organization, in my case, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators-Wisconsin. I will get a precious, quiet week to envision new programming for the region, plan events, edit materials, whatever SCBWI-WI needs. I take this responsibility seriously and intend to do my best by the region.

The second retreat is a regular writer’s residency, which will allow me a blissful week away from life’s normal distractions to work on my current project. I can’t even imagine that, to be honest. I hope I don’t freeze under the weight of expectation.

Who’s expectation? Mine. Honestly, as a Latina, these sorts of intellectual pursuits always seemed out of reach, as if they were hazy possibilities meant for other types of people. My grandparents worked farms in the central hills of Puerto Rico. My father moved to Milwaukee to be a laborer in a manufacturing plant, and he brought my mother up from the island when she was just a teen. She learned English here and worked her way up to earning a degree in engineering. Imagine that! Her three children are professionals in their own right. And I’m allowed two weeks to think and create. It’s … almost too much to believe.

I hear that residencies are game-changers in the lives of creatives. Without even having finished them, mine already are.

Wrapping up 2019 – what an incredible year

Me and hubby Jeff Miracola

I have immense gratitude as I look back at 2019. I could write long tomes about the many blessings, joys, and stations I’ve experienced this year, but I often think simpler is better. And so on this holiday, I’ve reflected on my own and the journeys of my loved ones, as such reflection does us good.

I haven’t posted much this year. The reasons are many, and most are very good:

*I put out my latest book this year.
*My husband and I put on another wonderfully successful, week-long illustration workshop.
*Our eldest graduated from college, while our other children carry on with their own higher education.
*Travel, international and domestic, for which I still pinch myself in disbelief because it’s such a grand thing.
*Advancement within SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) such that I now run the state chapter with my co-leader – and all the planning and dedication that position involves.
*Being reminded daily just how important is our health, even as health problems hit those I love.
*New work, new priorities, new goals, a clearer vision.

I’ll have more on that last line in 2020. For now, just know that I appreciate all you who read my words, check in with news of your own, and try to do good in the world. My thanks.

SCBWI-WI co-regional advisors Rochelle Groskreutz and Silvia Acevedo

Heaps o’ Books for Hurricane Relief

Once in a while you get to experience something really special, and that usually involves helping others. For the third straight year, I’ve taken part in the Novel Cuisine Luncheon put on by Wisconsin Author Liza Weimer and Blogger Extraordinaire Heidi Zweifel. The luncheon brings literary types together to collect and donate books to organizations that need them but don’t have financial means to secure them. We also dine on book-inspired foods. The recipients of donated books typically include classroom libraries and women’s shelters, offering the traumatized children there a desperately needed diversion. This year, books collected also went to areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

The awe-inspiring gathering of community-minded authors, publishing professionals, teachers, librarians, book club organizers, bookstore associates, and bloggers donated and shared hundreds of books. I know our small contribution to this cause will bring someone a moment of relief in truly trying times.

Here are some photos of the 6th annual event. I hope you enjoy them. A special thanks goes to the event organizers and volunteers for taking on such a worthy cause.

Author Gayle Rosengren donates books at the Novel Cuisine Luncheon

Author Gayle Rosengren donates books at the Novel Cuisine Luncheon

A small sampling of the hundreds of books donated at Author Luncheon 2017

A small sampling of the hundreds of books donated at Novel Cuisine Luncheon 2017

Authors Silvia Acevedo and Liza Wiemer

Me and Liza Wiemer

Ten Years Blogging

http://www.silviaacevedo.com

Milestones trigger emotions, and this one is no exception. Today marks ten years blogging. My website and blog is mostly about the creative life (writing, publishing, media in general) and occasionally sports. I’ve experienced growth in all those areas, and I hope something I wrote added to your insight on a subject.

My very first post was about inspiration, specifically about shooing the Muse. You can read it here:  http://www.silviaacevedo.com/a-writer-writes/muse-schmuse/ I feel pretty much the same way today. If I waited until I felt inspired, who knows when I’d ever get around to it? The funny thing is, once I start, it’s the writing itself that inspires me to write more. What inspires you?  And what topics should I hit in the next ten years? 🙂