Choices

Reprinted from my old blog which is now closed.

A few years ago, I broke both my arms. One moment, I was happily strolling along with our young puppy galumphing at my side. The next, I was sprawled face down in the asphalt of a parking lot.

More shocking than the thwack of pain was the blink-of-an-eye speed with which it all happened. I had tripped over a hidden metal rod in a supposedly landscaped island, and suddenly I had no control over my own body. Gravity took hold and threw me to the ground. Though only a few months old and still untrained, Watson was a good puppy and sat next to me until a stranger came by to help me get up.

Can you imagine what it was like to have both my arms in slings for months, useless, unable to do the most basic things for myself? One of the more memorable moments was after a few weeks of frustrating (and boring) passivity, when I was Read More

Is Your Creativity Driven by Dissatisfaction?

When I first read Anges de Mille’s retelling of a discussion with Martha Graham about the role of dissatisfaction in creativity, I recognized myself in it, as I expect most artists do. And I took Martha Graham’s advice to heart, hoping I would remember it during times of uncertainty in the value of my work.

When I shared it on Facebook, it hit a resonant chord with many of my friends, a number of whom reposted it. However, Rita Ashley replied, “Hmmm. Let me ponder this. Am I less of an artist if I am satisfied with a work I produced? If I cannot see a need to change, improve or correct?… Is dissatisfaction a requirement to be a good/great artist?

 I realized that Rita has a very healthy pride in her creations that I sometimes also feel. But that doesn’t make my dissatisfaction less of a driving force in all my creativity.

It’s a discontent not just with my art, but with the world around me, and my uncertainty about my ability to find the words or images that can help me (and others?) understand, deal with it, perhaps explore the questions that might — if we’re very lucky and persistent — find solutions.

Or, if I’m to be precise, I’m driven by a combination of confusion, concern, and dissatisfaction. I can be pleased with a single creation (sometimes), but my body of work is very incomplete. I have so much more to say, to try to understand.

 What drives your creativity? When, if ever, do you feel you’ve reached a point of completion?

 

The Stepford Wives & Barbie, Studies in Ideal Womenhood

Reposting an essay that I wrote in 2015

Diversity in the Barbie Universe
“Diversity” in the Barbie Universe

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1970’s classic thriller movie The Stepford Wives. Based on the novel with the same name by Ira Levin, the story is simple and nightmarish, a chilling distortion of the American Dream. The men of Stepford have decided that the only way they can attain an idealized Ozzie-and-Harriet-like suburban life is to replace their wives with “perfect women” in the form of mechanical dolls. These automatons are obedient, non-confrontational, devoid of opinion – and, of course, both great in bed and superb cooks. They’re also svelte, always impeccably groomed and white.

I keep flashing on The Stepford Wives not because I particularly liked the movie, but because it has become a cultural icon of the social pressure to conform. It’s a distorted view of womanhood that feels particularly relevant in light of the groundswell reaction to my recent essays Is Obesity the New Obscenity? and The Monster in the Mirror. With the many hundreds of comments, hits, links and likes those essays have received, I’ve realized that I’m not alone in my discomfort with the way people who don’t fit a distorted physical “ideal” are treated. In fact, “we” far outnumber “them.”

So why do these twisted yardsticks of “acceptability” persist when so many cry out against them? What is it that condemns society Read More

Can a Woman Have a Multi-Track Career and Succeed?

Just a few years ago, conventional wisdom was that a woman who does more than one thing would often be perceived as a person who wouldn’t be able to do any of them well. (Yes, I know, dark ages thinking, but it was a common perception.) That’s how I ended up with several different websites, each focused on one aspect of what I do, who I am.
 
So you may know me only as:
  • An author of numerous books, both nonfiction and fiction, including Jo Joe and The Winter Boy.
  • Or, a long-time PC Magazine contributing editor and a tech analyst for scores of publications and corporate clients.
  • Or, a pioneering digital imaging expert and the photographer behind the American Hands fine art narrative project.
  • Or, as a globetrotting journalist and essayist, whose life has been filled with wild adventures.
  • Or, a popular speaker and workshop leader.
  • And so forth.
 
I am pleased that I am no longer allowing myself to be segmented into various online personae. Instead, I now have this single website which represents the whole person I am: a woman who continues to follow several parallel tracks with essentially the same goal: To explore, learn, communicate, share and facilitate human connections and creativity.
 
On this site, I’ll post periodic personal essays and videos; interviews with interesting people; links to my articles, stories, books and reviews; and additional images in my photo galleries. The site also has a stronger focus on the speaking part of my career, with videos and examples of some of the programs and workshops I offer.
 
Please browse through this site and let me know what you think. If you like it, please share the link with others you think might find it useful and interesting. And should you be looking for a speaker for your company, school, organization or fundraiser, let’s talk.
 
I’ll look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you, Sally

Bringing the Voices in Our Heads to Life

Chinese paintingI often wonder if all writers are borderline schizophrenics who have simply learned to channel the voices in our heads into a creative outlet, thereby saving our sanity. Because, yes, we have people constantly talking to us, telling us stories, insisting that we devote our undivided attention to committing their tales to paper (or computer screen). I am curious how “normal” people go through their lives, day in and day out, all alone in their heads, with no one telling them stories and transporting them elsewhere. How boring that must be.

I first started listening to these voices as a very young child though they initially spoke in my mother’s particular storytelling timber and tone. A warm, mellifluous sound that I would ride into dreams, as she would read me to sleep. I’d inevitably continue the story in that dark, fluid world I created as I slumbered. And I would be surprised when Mom would later read to me the author’s version which hardly ever gelled with the ending my subconscious had invented.

I don’t remember when that multitude of voices escaped into the real world of daylight hours and day-to-day responsibilities. Perhaps, it was a Read More

What a Bitch!

Bitch meme by Sally Wiener GrottaThe other day, a woman described another woman to me as a bitch. Bitch is one of those words that can convey a world of ideas. But what does it really mean? And, more to the point for any fiction writer working to create flesh and blood characters, what are the undercurrents and coloration of using such a “power” word in our prose?

As powerful as the word bitch is, it could pull us into a political, feminist discussion about how it has been used to delineate and limit women. But, for now, I’m more interested in the process of creating fictional women who resonate with readers’ imagination, becoming believable, real.

The storyteller in me wants to pose the so-called bitch and her describer into a wide range of scenes, to see how they change.

Does the description change in meaning for us when the woman saying it is a daughter talking about her mother? What if the mother is Read More

Staring into the Mirror

Reflections, a self-portrait by Sally Wiener Grotta

(Essay by Sally Wiener Grotta, republished from Anisfield Wolf website)

In Karen R. Long’s essay What Biases Are You Carrying?,  which was posted on the Anisfield Wolf blog, Attorney Louise P. Dempsey was described as having used the following riddle as part of a lunch talk.

A man and his son were in a car accident. The critically injured man had to be helicoptered to the hospital. His son was rushed by ambulance to the same hospital. When the boy was wheeled into emergency surgery, the surgeon looked at him and said, “I can’t operate. This is my son.” The blog then asked the question, “How is this possible?”

If you haven’t heard that anecdotal test before, consider your answer for a few moments before continuing to read.Read More

Yom Kippur: Before the Closing of the Gates

Such a lovely honor. Yesterday, just before the Yom Kippur afternoon service, Rabbi Peg Kershenbaum handed me a copy of this poem which I had given her some time before, and she asked me to read it near the end of the concluding service. Her request surprised me, because I never thought of the poem as having any religious aspect. (Of course, I was pleased.) When I wrote it, I was thinking about the decisions we make daily about the life we choose to live. She felt it was appropriate for the concluding service of the day. How interesting and rewarding it is to have my work fed back to me, changed by a reader’s interpretation and perception (especially a reader I respect so highly), so that I see it anew. Thank you, Rabbi Peg.

Poem: Now Today by Sally Wiener Grotta

Burning Our Bridges. What is the Future of Our Libraries?

Books Burning by Sally Wiener GrottaDid you know that the Library of Alexandria wasn’t destroyed by fire in 40 CE, but by budget cuts?* That’s what I was recently reminded by an article on io9.com by Annalee Newitz (Editor-in-Chief of io9), which then led me to a fascinating essay about The Great Library by Heather Phillips (an Assistant Branch Librarian of the US Courts Library).

Yes, Julius Caesar set fire to the Library of Alexandria, but it continued to function as a library for centuries afterwards. (Not all fires completely destroy targets.) Yet, the loss of the Library of Alexandria, while not as dramatic as Hollywood would have us believe, was still a tragedy. That’s because it was unique in the ancient world as not only the greatest repository of knowledge, with hundreds of thousands of scrolls (books), but because it was a truly open (i.e. free) library. According to Phillips, “It served all literate people who could physically access the precincts of the library.” Read More