The Devil Is In the Details


wm-lateral-lilith-fauxcoverHow to create a homemade project that looks professional and inviting and even artistic–that’s the dilemma.

I would love to weave a romantic tale about my dilettante author life; that my groom delivers my horse while I pose on the mounting block in my baby-seal-skin riding boots. That I write at dusk by a sapphire pool while owls perch on my shoulder. That my personal masseuse/bodyguard/Corgi wrangler travels along in my Lear jet, as I flit to book talks in Paris, Rio, and Commerce City.

Can I just say there is nothing romantic about writing? It’s more like a bad habit. I start at 3:30 in the morning because I actually have a real job. If you can call horse training a real job. I’m not great company by dinner time, either. But if there is something less romantic than writing, it might be publishing. A friend suggested I write about this part; she thought it would be interesting. I’m dubious.

I’ve spent hours this week laying on the ground in pens here on the farm. I’m trying to take a photo for the next book cover and there are new power lines from a huge wind farm that cross-hatch all my backgrounds, not to mention miss-matched fence panels and a flotilla of wheelbarrows. So I was trying to get an angle where there is little background (like the llama in this photo) and just sky behind. Of course, when I lay on the ground in a pen I get dirt in unforeseen places. Then I wait, while the animals all tilt their heads at odd angles. Eventually, they saunter over to begin the C.S.I. work. In this photo, Lilith thinks I might be a bit unbalanced, but she doesn’t want me to die before lunch. The activity behind the camera makes her look absolutely sane.

If the devil is in the details, then so is the art.

I’ve done the same thing with a few different animals, at odd times of the day for a couple of weeks now. I’m not sure who be on the next cover. There are a few hundred photos. The photos have to have the right kind of spacing so the title works. Remember the cover for Stable Relation? Hundreds of shots there, too. Nubè was catatonic by the time I gave up.

It wasn’t my intention to use my photography at the beginning. I have friends who are professionals and I respect their work. Besides, I’m not very sophisticated. I use my phone and if I need a tripod, I use a donkey. My books are as homemade as canned beans.

I do work with a book designer in the UK; she started with the first book, Stable Relation. I gave her some random ideas–like I liked the original cover for Wild with the hiking boot. I told her the covers I liked in her portfolio, and sent a couple of “kinda like this” photos. She did six mock-up covers, five of them with commercial photos and one of my photos. I shared them around to friends for their opinions. I loved one of her ideas especially… but eventually decided on the black and white idea because the “feeling” was right. I also learned that I could disappoint people (friends) before the book even came out.

When it was time for a cover for Relaxed & Forward, I was all set to skip the group-vote folly and just use that spare cover from the first book. My designer sent me six mock-ups again, different colors and fonts on that first image, along with similar images from online photo stock. Then she pulled one of the interior chapter photos out, did a mock-up, and, well, she was right. It was perfect.

UPDATE: I’m a little over half-finished editing the final draft of Barn Dance. Then I’ll read it one more time, trying to pretend I’ve never read it before. I’ve set up the ISBN numbers for the new print and ebook, I’m wrangling interior photos, and chanting bad would-be tag lines. I have to write one small perfect paragraph describing the book, making it sound so indispensable that strangers will buy it instantly, form a cult, and send me all their goats. And then there’s the matter of the cover… I’d like Edgar Rice Burro, but he shuns the spotlight. Clearly, some of these tasks are more challenging than others. I’m hoping for a publish date in January for Barn Dance

I’ll be collecting an award at the Miami Book Fair International in mid-November. Anyone else going? There’s book shopping!

And one more time, I want to thank everyone who posted a review online, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads. It means the world. Literally, people around the world read them. Now that you have a view inside of my fabulous publishing dynasty, it’s probably obvious that readers are my publicity budget. Thank you for poking the search engine into a grinding, squeaking rattle with the question, “Anna who?” Thank you! The reviews that slowly trickle in now are from people whose names I don’t recognize. It worked!

Now I’m down to details on the new book. Idiosyncratic editing. Numbers, dimensions, and abbreviated descriptions. I’ll head out in early light in the morning and hit the dirt again. No baby-seal-skin boots. No Lear jet warming up. And if I had an owl on my shoulder, she’d be checking my hair for mice and grubs. Romanic, isn’t it?

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

Going Where You’re Invited

Lately I’ve been haunted by this drumming thought: Now would be a good time to do something smart.

It doesn’t come naturally to me. To be honest, I have a tendency to do things the hard way. I spent a fair amount of time beating down doors, back in the day. If easier methods existed, they never occurred to me. For instance, I liked the idea of winning the lottery but I don’t actually believe in a free lunch, so I never bought the ticket. See what I’m working with here?

Lousy financial decisions have been a constant. Like hiring that financial planner/ex-IRS agent who helped me lose all the profit I made selling a house… to the IRS. And you wouldn’t want to take me along to buy a used truck. And oh yeah, there’s that barn full of un-rideable horses next to my house.

Maybe I got lost on the way to take the road less travelled and that has made all the difference. (Apologies, Mr. Frost.)

All of this is to say that writing a book fit perfectly into my long-term plan. First, I warmed my fingers up by blogging regularly for the last seven years. Readers came one at a time. I was a tortoise-like sensation. Then it took two years to write the first book, Stable Relation. Not a get-rich-quick scheme by any stretch of judgment.

Research told me that ninety percent of self-published books sold less than a hundred copies, but still I took the advice of two publishers and a book publicist and decided to self-publish. Hello, Prairie Moon Press.

Being the publisher meant writing press releases and blurbs. Promoting a reluctant author and entering book contests. And the biggest challenge of all: Talking good about the author in public. It’s enough anxiety to turn your tongue into a Dorito. How did someone who mucked barns and wrote every spare moment get this PR job?

It’s been fourteen months since Stable Relation came out. I’ve been making the whole thing up as I go and it’s been surreal. But is it time to let it rest? I love this book but is it over? Am I turning–even more than usual–into that balding guy rocking out in the cliché-red Corvette?

I figure just around this time my guardian angel got out of rehab.

And then Stable Relation was awarded a gold medal from the Readers’ Favorite book awards, in the Non-Fiction, Animals category.

The publisher (me) is happy because now the author (me) has the title of  Award Winning Author. I’m flattered but still more likely to come to “Hey, you!”

They hold a ceremony/mini-conference during the huge and wonderful Miami Book Fair, November 18-20th. They invited the winners to come, hobnob a bit, and perhaps snag the ear of an industry pro. And going to a book fair sounds like about as much fun as you can have without goats or donkeys. On Saturday night, there’s a formal event to present the awards. Think rhinestones on my Crocs.

Like I said, I’d really like to do something smart, if I could tell what that was. I try to keep an open mind. Life is like working with donkeys; you end up someplace else but had little control about how you got there.

So, obviously my category wasn’t the biggest, and I won’t know a soul there, and I don’t sleep well in dog-less hotel beds. But I’m going to try something out of character. If you have a history like mine and don’t know what to do next–it’s crazy notion–but maybe you try going where you’re invited.

…Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro
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How I Spent Your Summer Vacation.

companyDo you ever have that feeling that you’re watching a foreign film, only it’s broad daylight and your own life?

I can’t remember a summer when I’ve hugged more strangers who know me intimately.

Start here: Sarah is one of my oldest friends, and a beta reader for me. Beta readers agree to read unfinished manuscripts and give their opinion, before the book is done. Sarah has edited for me in the past, is an avid reader, a lifelong librarian, and knew all the characters in my memoir, Stable Relation. Beyond that, she’s given me what we used to call a “permanent wave” and so I knew she had no qualms about humiliating me. You want that in a beta reader.

When she called me, her first words were, “You make the place sound so bucolic. Anna… I’ve been to your farm.” She spoke with a flat monotone to her voice and a bit of sarcasm salted on top for comic effect. As Sarah gets older, she sounds more like her mother. They both crack me up.

Sarah’s right, of course. Perhaps my greatest feat as a writer is to get everyone to see this ramshackle humble farm through my eyes. Well, Sarah, your words have come home to roost.

The first farm visit last fall was for an newspaper article. I knew the reporter; he’d even been here before. I liked him. And I still changed clothes three times, trying to cross-dress and look like an author.

There has been a trickle of visitors this summer. One reader emailed me that her family was taking a road trip to the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde; would it be possible to drop by and say hello? Of course I was flattered that my tiny farm with mis-matched fence panels would be listed with such famous landmarks.

When they arrived, Marcella jumped out of the car, shouted enthusiastic greetings, promised to not take my whole day, and acted like she wanted to hug me.

Disclaimer: if you’ve read Stable Relation, I think you know my people are not the hugging sort.

So, of course I hugged her, and greeted her husband and daughter. Standing there in the driveway, I wasn’t totally sure what to do next. After all, I’m there because of my ability to sit alone and type. I guessed they’d want to see the animals. In hindsight, you’d call it a walking tour, but I wanted to get to the comfort zone of my barn. We were strolling and talking horses, when Marcella recognized my Grandfather Horse. She recognized him! I’m not sure why that meant so much to me. Except he’s the reason for all of this.

I had more visitors the next week; a man who’d written me not long after Stable Relation was published. Chaz and his wife, Peggy arrived with a bottle of wine. I would have never thought to make such a kind gesture. Again, the walking tour and Peggy was honest to say that she was a bit nervous around horses. It was fair, we were in the gelding pen, where the short horse is 15.2 hands.

I could see Edgar Rice Burro waiting for her at the gate on the far side of the next pen. Once we got there, he took over with Peggy, Edgar’s a bit of a lady-killer with his long ears and sweet heart. The other equines in the pen mingled with us. We stood there talking like old friends at the neighborhood bar. Even Lillith, the shy donkey foster, wandered up and nudged Chaz.

As they were leaving, I was signing a book for a friend of theirs, when Chaz showed me his copy of Relaxed & Forward. He’d told me before that he turned page corners at spots he wanted to come back to, but when I actually saw it, it seemed like every other page corner was turned. What a thing. I tried to stay focused on signing the other book, but it knocked me back. The dorky ninth-grader in me fumbled. Why didn’t I ask to sign his book? Why didn’t I thank them for making me feel so special?

Then this week, a group of five visited. They were long time city dwellers, as interested in seeing the pond and re-imagining the distances from the blizzard chapter, as meeting the animals. Then the llamas were a bit rowdy. As they were leaving, one of the women came very close. She said she knew it wasn’t a big deal for me, but for them it was very special. Something they would never forget. She grabbed me for a huge, heartfelt hug. I mumbled whatever I could think of but I fumbled again.

How could she possibly think this wasn’t a big deal to me?

UPDATE: The manuscript for Barn Dance is with my editor. She edits lots of authors; I just like to call her mine. She’ll have it a few weeks, then I’ll incorporate her corrections. It’s grammar and punctuation and sentences that make no sense. In the meantime, I’m in a flop sweat knowing I’ll need a tag line, thinking about the cover image, and that paragraph that perfectly describes 80,000 wandering words. In other words, this is the time that I least trust my judgment. On the high side, I’m getting used to it. Barn Dance is on schedule for the New Year. As always, thank you for your support.

Sometimes it feels to me like I use this blog to apologize; to vent my lack of social skills and try to navigate my way in the human world. I constantly shake my head, marveling at the ways Stable Relation has changed my life. When it was published, I hoped the book would take flight but I didn’t expect this boomerang effect.

We love company here, especially the animals. But since the book, sometimes I don’t recognize myself. So if my eyes seem to go blank, I have only the flimsiest excuse. I’m rudely distracted, watching a foreign film behind my eyes.  It has an embarrassed ninth-grader with gray hair and a slight limp; she needs sub-titles.

And Sarah, I notice I’m not any more “bucolic” than my farm.

Barn Dance! Almost Soon!

Edgar lips (4)Do you have friends who love playing games? My relatives were big card players–Pinochle, Canasta, Cribbage. I grew up to the sound track of shuffling cards. When Uncle Perlie came visiting, you could count on beer, stinky cheese, and those oily canned oysters.

Back in the day, I had friends who held board game weekends with Saturday all-nighters: Monopoly, Risk, and Clue, supported by pizza, chips, and beer.

Board games are technologized now. I think it’s called gaming, a verb, and singletons with pasty skin sit in cold dark rooms, hunkered over a device that pits cartoon war-gods with blaring guns against little kittens and ducklings. I think they eat sticks and dirt.

None of my friends ever played word games like Scrabble or crossword puzzles; that would defeat the purpose since those are the chosen games of the Intelligentsia. Word games had that nasty by-product of falling limply into the category of educational. [Pre-canned oysters rejoice!]

I don’t enjoy playing games. Yes, somewhere a room full of ex-boyfriends-and-husbands hold open hands above their heads, nodding in affirmation, and some testify, “Boy Howdy” in agreement. I don’t mean that; I mean whatever the current name for board games is…

The problem with making a blanket statement like that is there’s always, always, an exception to the rule. Then we do a butt-fall into some foreign place and notice in hindsight that perhaps we weren’t quite right about what we thought we didn’t like. Char-fried brussel sprouts with vinegar and brown sugar, for example.

And so it is with me and my favorite game. Apparently. It seems there’s something I might like as much as writing and it hurts my suffering-author-street-cred. I’m embarrassed to admit I enjoy editing; sliding words around, replacing one with another, looking for a smaller word to make a bigger impact. [Pre-canned oysters squint their tiny eyes with uncertainty about their future.]

I might spend a couple of hours writing a short thousand-word essay and then, as if I’m slipping into a hot tub, I settle into a dreamy few hours of editing. Do I over-indulge? If so, why do I constantly miss that correctly-spelled wrong word? Like now instead of know. Or if instead of is. Oy, these pesky little words that trip me up while trying to carve and sculpt just the right turn of phrase.

The last time I wrote about editing, I immediately got two emails from readers about needed edits in that very editing essay. The irony is not lost on me, and still I plow ahead… It’s the undaunted sign of a fanatic.

WEEKLY UPDATE: I’m half-way through editing Barn Dance. It’s the next book and I’m hoping to have it out by the New Year. Even as I love to languish in editing, I’ll try to hurry. As soon as I’m done with this edit, I’ll send the manuscript off to an edit-pro with a huge smile. In a few weeks, it’ll be returned with the computer version of red ink all over it. It’s an enthusiastic investment; I really love this part. It’s where I learn even more about punctuation and word tense–wildly spellbinding to a WordNerd like me. After that, I’ll incorporate those corrections and move on to the final version.

In a way, Barn Dance is a bit like both of the last two books. It is like Stable Relation, in that there are stories of ranch dogs and rescue horses, baby llamas and sage donkeys, goat anarchists and the most elusive and cantankerous creature of all–the old gray mare. Who writes. And it’s like Relaxed & Forward in that the book is structured in a short essay format.

My personal gaming reality? I sit in a cock-pit of two computer monitors and a keyboard. The window in front of me faces west; my pond and Pikes Peak. The window to my right opens to my barn. My soundtrack is quacking and braying and nickering, and the snacks of choice: apples and cheese and cookies, with time appropriate tea or wine.

It’s true. I’m the most similar to the pasty players in the basement; odd hours off by myself, staring at a lit-up screen and somewhat defensive about what I eat while making bad jokes about ducklings. I work at the fantasy of playing my game as a full-time job. A job that, if I’m wildly successful, could eventually rise to the coveted level of almost minimum wage.

As always, thanks so much for your support and comments. I couldn’t do it without you. And have a grate day!

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro


Crossing a Line, One Year Later

clara loveletterWhen I was twenty-four and just a baby goldsmith, I decided I wanted to show my one-of-a-kind jewelry in a New York gallery. Most of my friends were just out of college and I wanted to think my self-taught education was in line. I steeled my heart, borrowed a typewriter, enclosed some slides, and mailed off an inquiry to the best fine art jewelry gallery in Manhattan, located on Fifth Avenue across from MOMA.

Pigs fly; I got a positive response by return mail and then borrowed money to buy the gold and gemstones for the new pieces. A few weeks after that, I boarded a plane wearing jeans and a t-shirt, carrying a backpack with new collection of work tucked inside. Such a risk. It all felt like watching a foreign film–precarious and surreal.

I checked into the Fashion Institute Dorm, changed into a ridiculous white dress with huge shoulder pads that made me look like an aircraft carrier, and set about walking the two miles to the gallery. That way I’d have plenty of time to get up a good head of anxiety and blister a toe in my new shoes. The meeting was a blur; I remembered to shake hands when I met the gallery director. In a conference room, I pulled my work out one piece at a time and he critiqued as I went, using phrases like “negative space” and “visual tension.” All I could think was Just say it–not acceptable, you don’t need to explain how bad my work is… and then he finished with a question, “Can you leave the pieces with us today?”

The rest of the day is even more of a blur. I blistered the rest of my toes going back to the dorm; I might have skipped most of the way. When I got some of my wits back the next day, I called the gallery to thank them again and got the news that one piece had sold already.

I said the word out-loud: Artist. Calling myself that name in my basement studio was one thing, but now I’d crossed a line. Okay, skipped over it really, but it changed things. Over the next year, I had work in galleries across the country, and almost as an afterthought, my work got more popular at home. I also lost a couple of friends. They stepped away quietly but I noticed. The attempts to reconnect failed. Is there such a thing as success guilt?

Maybe you know the feeling. A dear friend plans a wedding on the heels of the worst break-up of your life. You get a promotion in your dream career when your sister is out of work. If you’re in a place of scarcity it can feel like there isn’t enough luck to go around and one person’s gain depletes your possibility. Or if you’re the one with good news, you bite your tongue because mentioning your good fortune would be like rubbing salt in the their wound. Most of us have been in a place where it takes as much courage to say congratulations as it does to put on the white dress.

A year ago, I crossed another line. I went from writing endlessly in a little studio to holding an actual physical copy of my memoir, Stable Relation, in my hand. When I exposed it to the world, and I exposed myself as well. It took Zen-like focus and wild audacity. I knew a hard reckoning would come. On the high side, no silly white dress.

Writing is like constructing Frankenstein. Playing god with an 80,000 word manuscript, and when it’s finally done, being brought to your knees, trying to wrestle five words into a byline. It’s a hope that your words will catch the wind and at the same time, the profound understanding that you are less than a fleck of dust in this big, complicated world. It’s yelling, “Hey, look at me!” and knowing that your underwear is on your head.

And then, I saw a photo online of my book on someone else’s tablecloth and my mind imploded. In the next few days, more readers posted photos of the book and Stable Relation became my traveling gnome. I was over the moon. I was hiding under my bed.

Reviews started coming in and most were positive. People commonly said that they couldn’t put the book down; they’d finished it without taking a breath. Where’s the next book?

Wait! This literary “snack” had taken me two and a half years to write, a few thousand dollars, and a serious time commitment every single day since. What’s the word for simultaneously choking and laugh-howling with horror?

A year later, this is what I notice: I can laugh without choking again. My list of improbable things has been severely edited and my battered confidence is standing steady. I’m word-fearless and inspired to write stronger every day. I even dabble in poetry; fearless I tell you!

I’ve received heartfelt emails from kindred spirits in other countries, made friends with people I’m in awe of, and my rural mail-carrier told me her mother loved my book.

Now and then, I notice something missing. Someone missing. I don’t need a parade but those who have remained silent are noticed. I hope they’re well. What does it mean when we choose to miss events in our friends lives? When we don’t acknowledge passages like divorces or children born or new paths taken? Have I offended them? Could it be that our emotional landscapes at odds with each other?

I spend so much of time trying to be a human thesaurus, always searching for the right words to understand these inexplicable contradictions. All the while I’m painfully aware that I can’t control how those same words will be heard…in my writing or in my life.

In the end, maybe assuming good intention is a more productive use of energy than doubting motives. Change has an ironic sense of humor and we might do better to smile and act like we’re in on the joke, even in hard times. The other word for that is grace.

To my blog readers here, I’ve used this space to transition myself into my new surroundings. It’s been the place where I confess my dreams and my shortcomings. I wander around in old pajamas and spill coffee on my keyboard. Mainly I sit in slack-jawed amazement, balanced between wild joy and abject dread. If you have been with me here from the start, what tolerance you’ve shown. I’m sure I haven’t thanked you enough. I’m equally sure you can’t know how much your support has carried me. It’s been the very best part.

Thank you. Big. Always.


Quote-Hoarding as Therapy.

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It was called The Book of Quotes, curated by two guys in my high school. They were skinny/tall, a bit too smart, and not remotely athletic–way before that geek title was claimed with pride. Back when a dork’s best defense was his intelligence. The Book of Quotes was their prized possession; a spiral notebook carried everywhere, poised to immortalize the key words, when the world became bizarre. Entries were made daily, of course.

I was friends with the dark-haired one but definitely not smart/male/cool enough to hang with these guys on a regular basis. We were self-segregated in those days. Okay, that part hasn’t changed much. But one day when we were sitting in the library, they opened the sacred book and read a quote–obscure and out-of-context. It went splat out on the table, followed by snorting, giggling, and faking sophistication while pushing my glasses back up my nose again. We all just wanted to be in on a joke instead of the butt of one.

I had a secret. I kept a book of quotes, too. It wasn’t like theirs; mine was meant to be an oracle for lost girls. Like this:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

You catch my drift. Mine didn’t involve arcane jokes or adolescent innuendos. Mine was literary and heartfelt. The quotes were my battle cry because if a good quote is repeated enough times, it becomes an internal tattoo.

 “Assume a virtue if you have it not.” Shakespeare
The habit stuck; I’ve been a quote-hoarder all these years but never so much as when I was starting to write my memoir, Stable Relation.  My studio was wallpapered with tape, thumb-tacks, and hand-written quotes that I relied on like a professional therapist. Every morning, I rolled out of bed hours before breakfast, let the dogs out, and started writing. I had no idea that birds were up in the dark, too, but they warbled and chirped a soundtrack to my book. I typed on, in the shadow of the quote that was my long-time favorite:
Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark. –Rabindranath Tagor

When an old-friend-quote shows up in real life, take it as an omen.

This blog started out as wishful thinking. I’d just finished my book and I was strangely confident. Sink or swim; Stable Relation was just what I wanted it to be. Every word of it.

The problem was what to do next. How had it not occurred to me that writing the book wasn’t going to be enough? Now what? I had no confidence in the process.  I was still that girl who chanted the magical words from other books. In a world of literary giants, my little book was invisible…unless I spoke up for it. A daunting prospect, so I recycled an extremely well-worn quote for that:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

Or in my case, one blog post. Here’s where I thank you, dear reader, again and again. It’s been a wild hike this last eighteen months.

The full-circle-crazy part? It happened while scrolling through Facebook. I came upon a quote that I thought about copying for an instant… but then I recognized the attached photo. It was one of mine, and now that I looked closer… I hadn’t recognized the words out-of-context. For all of the editing and word arranging needed to tell a story just right, I’d never once thought of dissecting my writing into a small bite. But umm, now that I think about it, that is how a quote happens, isn’t it? What a world!

Are you a quote collector, too? Words are free magic. We share them like our breath, our experience, our mutual lives. Words come from teenage boys, or ancient texts, or our own imagination, to remind us we are more alike than different.

The magic happens when a printed word takes flight, and carries us along.

Shrews for Shakespeare

mousekiller ShakespeareI was an above average student, as long as I could avoid any science class involving frogs. Then in junior year English, we had to read a play by Shakespeare. I joined the chorus of moaning and whining. For crying out loud, what language was this anyway? But then a crazy thing happened; something that I couldn’t explain because in 1970 we hadn’t invented the word GEEK yet. At first the Bard’s language was intimidating… but it dawned on me that I understood most of the words. Even more bizarre, I liked the writing. Then in true teenage fashion, I really liked liking it. No one was more surprised than me. Well, except for my family.

My father ruled our home with a strong hand and no one was smarter than him. Not the stupid people on the news or the stupid politicians or the stupid rich people. And most certainly, not his daughter.

His rant began when he saw my school books. What a waste of time to read something that old! He said schools didn’t teach anything worthwhile and when I defended reading Shakespeare, he accused me of trying to get above my raising. Not actually good news in his world view. You would have thought I was pregnant with Shakespeare’s baby. My response was, well, shrew-ish.

Public school had been a godsend. While books might have been the passport to the world, we didn’t have them at home; without school I would have been lost. And reading Shakespeare was how my particular rebellion began.

After graduation, I took a trip with my boyfriend but that wasn’t the worst part. I did something that proved I was a smarty-pants. We went to a Shakespeare festival in the next state. The response from my father was predictable. Other kids wrecked cars or had drug problems but all that paled in comparison to my father’s problem: A daughter with the beginnings of an education and a desire for a bigger life.

“My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break.”   

Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew.

Surely every parent feels this rub. My father was defensive and I almost understood. He was a product of the depression, holding onto a feeling of lack all his life. He believed in the class system that put him down; that had never given him what he felt he deserved. It wasn’t that my father wanted me to fail; he just didn’t want me to do better than he had. He didn’t want to be shown up by a girl.

I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last. It’s still all the rage to try to intimidate girls and women into silence. In 2012, Malala Yousafzai reminded the world there is nothing as scary as a school girl with a book. She survived an assassination attempt and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize; extremes on the continuum that all women walk.

I recently read that the most prevalent human rights issue in the world is the oppression of women. I can believe it; the impact of sexism crosses lines of race, age, education, and income–across cultures and down through time. Insidiously common because it starts at home, misogyny is just an inbred superiority complex, and as common as dirty laundry and dishes in the sink.

When college didn’t happen, I home-schooled myself. I spent my twenties with an endless line of Penguin Classics in my backpack, sometimes writing unsolicited papers on them. An artist by vocation and an English major by avocation.

I learned to own my words and to translate other words in my favor. Society called men ambitious, while the name for same traits in a woman was not nearly so flattering. I wish that B-word that rhymes with witch would be replaced with Shrew. It’s a nostalgic word that reminds me of the first time I consciously became aware of my own intelligence. Shrew. Just hearing it makes my shoulders straighten a bit.

Understatement: I’m no Shakespeare.

Sometimes at book-talks, people ask me who my favorite authors are and I rattle off a list–mostly women, I notice. I never mention the Bard. I sound like an elitist even calling him the Bard. As if I can still be shamed for exercising my brain. As if being a geek shouldn’t be something to brag about.

Well, I’ll raise my shrew-ish hand high and proclaim it: Shakespeare was my first.

Chime in; who got inside your brain and stirred it up? How did you first get above your raising?