Slang: The Secret Handshake that Separates “Us” from “Them”

Shalom Salam by Sally Wiener GrottaOkay, I admit it, I’m acrynomically challenged. It seems that new abbreviations appear daily on my tweeter feed, in emails, even in articles of magazines that I think of as mainstream (i.e. written in “commonly accepted” English). And I’m sent scurrying to Google to try to find the newest definitions for acronyms that didn’t exist or meant something entirely different the last time I looked.

Language has always been the dividing line between “insiders” and “outsiders.” In one story in the Bible, how a person pronounced the word “shibboleth” determined whether a sentry would let him pass or kill him. So it has been through the centuries. Words and accents have determined what tribe will accept you, whether it’s social class, professional standing or “belonging” to a certain group, gang or tribe. But it seems to me that it’s gotten worse in this digital age.

Of course, language is a living, malleable thing, always changing. The slang of the 1920s is now considered either passé or has been integrated into college curriculum for English Lit 101. As an author, I enjoy Read More

Too Soon

Too soon
The sun rises
Before the night-long dream resolves
Before we can eek meaning out of the ether.

No sunlight please
To burn away the shadows
Flatten the contrast between
Yes/No
Is/Is not.

Too soon it is over
Curtains close
Against the day’s glare
And the dream is lost.

Blessings

“Blessing” by Sally Wiener Grotta

Three years ago today, my Dad passed away in his sleep at the age of 99 1/2; as usual, he had fallen asleep while reading an ebook on his smart phone. I will miss his big smile and loving presence for the rest of my life. Below is an exhibit blurb I wrote about this picture, for him, about him, about us, soon after his death.

Blessing
L’Chaim
To life
To love
To continuity of blood and love and life

I created this photograph on the occasion of my father’s 95th birthday, which was also the day of his first great-grandson’s bris. Of the many photographs I have taken, this one frozen moment has the greatest timeline, pulling at my heart with memories that go so far back and so far forward that they can exist only in my imagination, spanning far more than a single lifetime.

Generations created this moment, as I composed the image and pressed the shutter button. Generations I can know only from stories told by those who came before and are no more. Generations yet to be, whom I will never meet, but whom I hope will remember the stories told by this picture.

Malleable Memory

Memory is malleable.

In my short story The Broken Bottle, I refer to Akira Kurosawa’s seminal movie Rashomon, in which each witness to a murder tells a different story of the crime – including the ghost of the victim. While Rashomon paints a scenario in which individuals may or may not be lying to us about their memory, I propose that our own memories lie to us. Often they tell us the stories we want to hear about ourselves. And what we want to hear changes as we move further and further away from the truth of the event. (Of course, “want” may be debatable. But I’ll leave that psychological discussion to another time.)

Johanna, the protagonist of The Broken Bottle says, “It’s as though the young woman I was back on that wet July night stands in the middle of a polygonal mirrored room. Though she is surrounded by the facts of the moment, all she can see are the distorted reflections, refracting through time.”

When I look back on my childhood, which I shared with my sister and my parents and an assortment of friends, family and pets, it’s an ethereal landscape. Sometimes shrouded in dense fog. Periodically illuminated, so that specific places or people stand out so clearly that I can taste the air, smell their perfume, feel the emotions in the pit of my stomach – especially the shock of embarrassment or great hurt or ecstasy. But mostly, everything and everyone in my past are Read More

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

Being Alien: An Essay in Progress

Today, while doing my morning exercises, I clicked through Netflix and ended up watching “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon.” It’s a fascinating documentary about an anthropologist’s first interaction with one of the isolated tribes of the region. But my interest wasn’t only intellectual. I was curious about how the tribe Daniel and I had once met might have fared. (To read a bit about our experience in the Amazon, please go to a lighthearted piece I did for Lawrence Schoen’s Eating Authors.)

According to “First Contact,” an Amazon region of about 30,000 square miles (spread across the border between Brazil and Peru) is home to the majority of “uncontacted” people in the planet. Uncontacted means that they have had no recorded interaction with the outside modern world. However, many (if not most) have been watching us for a long time. Read More

Ursula K. Le Guin No Longer Walks this Earth

Ursula K. Le Guin and Sally Wiener Grotta at the Canon Beach Writers Workshop

This morning I learned of Ursula K. Le Guin’s death. I’m still not quite ready to process the fact that she no longer walks this earth.

Early in my fiction career, I was privileged to study with Ursula at a small Canon Beach workshop, just a walk along the ocean edge from her home. Each day was an awakening… and sometimes a terror. She was a tough taskmaster with so much to share and teach. I’ve no doubt that she was just as tough (if not more so) on herself. But she was also so very supportive and encouraging. In many ways, it’s because of her that I didn’t give up on my fiction, my idealism and my dreams.

I am finding it difficult to work today in the wake of learning of that she is gone. And yet, I can hear her voice in my head, as I long have and I expect I will for as long as I live. Today, she is chastising me to write, to work, to find my voice and use it. 

Thank you, Ursula, for all you have given to all of us. Not only one of the great writers of our time, but a great inspiration.

Let Sleeping Crocodiles Lie. Cautionary Tales from a Freelance Life

Crocodile by Sally Wiener GrottaDaniel and I enjoyed strolling. Wherever we were, whether near home or on some other continent, we’d go for rambling walks. Often with no destination in mind, turning where our feet and curiosity pulled us, stopping when something demanded our full attention, or to simply sit and absorb. It was our way of connecting. With our surroundings, whether it were nature or a cityscape. With the rhythm of life and culture. With each other. Every walk was an adventure, an exploration, a learning experience. And fun.

More often than not, I’d have a camera in hand. When we were away from home, Daniel usually carried my camera bag, which would be packed with lenses, various camera bodies, model releases and the other paraphernalia that fill such bags, including dozens of rolls of film. (Yes, this was in the pre-digital era.)

On this particular walk, the sun slanted on the arid sub-Sahara of Kenya’s Samburu National Park. Golden light and long shadows mottled the parched landscape, creating unexpected shapes where I had seen only a flat and near featureless expanse in the midday overhead sun. Dotting the far flung vista were occasional groves of trees, indicating probable water sources.

Our only companion was our guide. Unlike the lanky statuesque men of the local Samburu tribe who moved through their domain with the graceful lope of a gazelle, our guide was compact, with a center of gravity that seemed to keep him in constant contact with the earth under his feet. The air was alive with almost subliminal sounds that I couldn’t really identify — probably bird calls, perhaps insects and far off animal calls. The sky above was as wide as any I’ve ever seen, stretching from horizon to far horizon, devoid of any sign of mankind’s imprint on nature. No wires, no buildings, no vehicles or sounds of traffic. Not even the contrail of a high altitude plane.

As we rounded the edge of a comparatively large grove of trees, we saw a small river which had carved a crevasse in the dry soil so that the embankment seemed to tower over the waterway like a tiny cliff. At the bottom of the near embankment slept an enormous crocodile. He was motionless, a stunning sculptural figure composed of dense shadows and pools of light. Read More

“The Winter Boy” — Inspirations, Writing Processes & the Life of a Writer

When Sally’s Locus Award-nominated novel The Winter Boy was honored by being selected for SWFA‘s first ever fantasy StoryBundle, fellow author Erika Satifka interviewed Sally to discuss writing processes, inspirations, and some of the inside stories behind the creation of The Winter Boy

 

This interview is from last November, and the StoryBundle is no longer available. However, The Winter Boy is available from most bookstores in paperback, hardbound and all e-book formats, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and an independent bookstore near you.

A Literary Evening with Friends

 

from left to right: Randee Dawn, Sally Wiener Grotta, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner

This past week, I went to my first KGB Bar Reading (in NYC). It was a delightful evening, sharing the warm, energetic and inspiring companionship of fellow authors, which included a luminous reading by Theodora Goss.

If you’re visiting New York City (or live there), be sure to check out the KGB Readings calendar. The audience is often as celebrated as the author at the podium.