Thursday, December 28, 2006

Still more VSC Rockstars!

Still more of you dear, generous people, have given me support for my work at the Vermont Studio Center. I thank with a heart overflowing with gratitude, Betty Anderson, Wendy Binder, Sarah Gill, Karen Sbrockey, Michael and Sam Kolendowicz, Brian Perko and Tim Minear, Rebecca Lay, and Hilary Rantisi.

To my nephew, Daniel, I am indebted for listening to me, for being my ally in the struggle to live a just life, and for your compassionate generosity. It thrills me that, at so young an age, you understand so well the circular nature of things.

As always, my beloved comrade Mark is my rock.

I can't express in words what the support of each of you who have contributed to this project has meant to me. As I'm sure you can imagine, it is very, very hard for me to ask for money. I was raised below the poverty line, and taught from a very young age that if one wants something, one works for it--that it is wrong and shameful to "expect a handout."

But over the years, I have been blessed to develop a circle of friends, comrades, fellow artists who understand and share the communitarian spirit Mark and I feel, who understand how we live our lives and why, and who have expressed repeatedly that it is not shameful for me to ask for help, who have been unflagging in their support for me and my work. As the old year ends, and the new year begins, I am more grateful for this faith, trust, acceptance and generosity than you can imagine.

Not everyone I asked appreciated my requests for help. It was quite painful and shocking to me, to realize that some of those whom I'm closest to and most expected would want to help me, not only would not, but attempted to shame me for even asking. I certainly will look with a very critical eye at what I asked, who I asked and how. However, what's particularly weird about all this is that I've received such incredibly loving and supportive messages from others, even strong praise for the manner in which I requested support. There have several long, dark tea-times of the soul of late, during which such kindnesses have kept me going.

I look forward to doing some serious written reflecting on our cultural and individual beliefs about money, fundraising, gift-giving, community vs. individual resources, and what constitutes legitimate work. This process has truly been an education.

Let me close by saying what I think is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned: No one should be shamed for asking for money. I am a practicing Quaker, and I have always taken to heart Jesus' admonition that if someone asks you for one thing, you give him or her two. But that does not mean I have always lived up to that call for compassion and respect. I feel like I understand now, in a much deeper way, why Jesus said what he did. In first century Palestine, as in 21st century America, to ask for help is deeply humbling, and very hard. There is much shame associated with it, particularly asking for financial help. This experience and the shame it has brought me have forced me to look at the times in my life--more than I would ever want to see--that I have judged those, friends and strangers, who have asked my assistance: judged their motives, judged their worth, judged their financial acumen, bank accounts and spending patterns, judged their values. I am ashamed, not of asking those I love and trust for help, but of the numerous times I did not give that dollar to the homeless man who asked, or thought, "yes, but he's just going to use it to buy beer," of the times I judged a friend harshly when he or she asked for help, making all sorts of assumptions as to why he or she shouldn't need help, or shouldn't ask. I was wrong, and I hope never to make that mistake again.

And so to all you struggling and emerging artists out there, wondering who supports you, I say this: Write to me. Ask for help. If I can give money, I will. If I can't give money, I'll give something else. Even if I have nothing left to give (and we all have something), I will give you moral support. I will praise you for trying, for risking being an artist in a country which prizes the production of dead things over the creative life. I will thank you for believing enough in yourself and your community to ask their support for what you are doing, for what you are doing is a gift back to your community.

Never be ashamed to ask for help, but do try to understand and respect why others may not wish to give it. And if folks do not share your values or support your cause, accept that--not everyone will, and that doesn't make them bad people.

You are not wrong or evil or ill-mannered to hold out your hand. Here, give it to me. Let us walk this difficult path together.

Monday, December 18, 2006

VSC Hall of Fame: Thank you donor-partners!

Many heartfelt thanks to David Baird and Danielle Short of Denver, Carleen Brice of Denver, and Esther and Robert Griswold of Denver, the first donor-partners to respond to my request, following, of course, the Ghost of Neruda!

I couldn't do this without your spiritual, emotional, and financial support. Thank you so much!

BTW, Carleen's a brilliant writer, who now has both her own website and a blog. Check them out on the links at right!


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Writing in January--Your Partnership is Needed!

Ah, the beauty of winter! It's finally made it's way to Denver, and as Mark and I hike to the grocery store across the snow-covered city-slickness, tentatively feeling for black ice, I realize I need to figure out something to cover my face with. Ten degrees is cold. Thanks to global warming, and our winter at the Hilligoss's off-the-grid cabin in Utah last winter, it's been a while since I've experienced ten degrees! Come to think of it, it's been a while since I've experienced winter!

According to the good people at Vermont Studio Center, temperatures in the village of Johnson range from -30 to 40. You read that right: negative 30. For the record, my body has never been anywhere near -30. I grew up in Southern California. I'd be intimidated, but weather doesn't intimidate me, despite the best efforts of TV weather people ("It's the storm of the century!"--whatever). I love weather. Southern California is the most climate-controlled place on the planet--boring as hell. Almost as hot. I'm looking for cheap winter boots, and trying to hunt down used snow shoes! I can't wait!

Vermont Studio Center, for any of you unfamiliar with it, is an awesome place. Someday I'll figure out how to edit the links to the right of this message of put a hyperlink to it. I was referred to VSC by the illustrious and delicious Rikki Ducornet, who, to the great sorrow of Denver writers, has abadoned us for the rain shade of Port Townsend, Washington. VSC provides studio space, housing, uninterrupted work time, critique from more advanced colleagues in one's field of creative endeavor, and perhaps most importantly, community for sculptors, painters, and writers from around the world, throughout the year. I was blessed to receive a partial scholarship to VSC for the month of January, and so will be there from Jan 7 to Feb 2 this year, working on my collection of short stories, "Stepping into the Kingdom" (inspired by my experiences in Palestine), the new novel I started this month, and a poetry chapbook I've been trying to finish for a few years now.

Howard Norman and John Yau will be the fiction writer and poet in residence, respectively. In addition to critiquing writers' work, they will give craft talks and readings while we're there. I can't wait.

Although I received a partial fellowship and work-study grant, and Mark and I are paying quite a bit of the rest, I still need to raise money to make up the difference. The cost for the residency, plus airfare, comes to $3800. Mountain View Friends Meeting gave me a $500 scholarship. I still have to raise $900 though. If you would like to make a donation, please send your check or money order to

Val Phillips
VSC Fund
P.O. Box 300062
Denver, Colorado 80203

While your donations are not tax-deductible, during the time I'm at VSC writing I will not be contributing MORE taxes to the war machine! It's a good thing.

All donors will be gratefully acknowledged on this website, in print when my work is published, and at public readings in Denver. Additionally, for a donation of $25 or more, you will receive a hand-bound, autographed copy of the stories and poetry I complete at VSC. Support radical artists! Please! Partner with me in envisioning and creating a better world.

Many, many thanks!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The End of NaNoWriMo

No, it's not a Orkan greeting. It's National Novel Writers Month, and it comes to an end tomorrow. In addition to writers extraordinaires, Nancy Stohlman and Carleen Brice, I helped represent Denver in this insane undertaking. For more info, see:

Sorry I haven't figured out hyperlinks yet. Another project for my cold month in front of a computer screen in Vermont.

NaNoWriMo, which I would recommend to any writer (which means to anyone), is this crazy "contest" in which thousands of writers globally--linked through the NaNoWriMo website, and local write-ins and groups--endeavor to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. It's not only acceptable but expected that much of what one will write will be rubbish, but a lot of it can also be quite brilliant. Writing with the Muse turned way up and the Critic turned way down (as they must be if one is to produce prose so prolifically) is a fantastic antidote to writer's block and the fake humility known as ego.

Last I'd heard, Nancy was closing in on 50,000 words of what will no doubt be a brilliant 3rd novel of hers. I can't wait to read it. Hell, for that matter I can't wait to read mine!

NaNoWriMo has been a positive, but bittersweet experience for me. I spent most of the month making excuses rather than writing, although the very beginning and very end were productive, exciting and revelatory. Thanks to Nancy and some gorgeous shared writing time together in a mountain cabin last weekend, I've gotten reinvigorated and have been writing every day this week. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I've started a brand new novel, with brand new characters, who are fascinating me and going in directions I never expected. The totally tentative title of the book is "See." It will be my first completed novel.

And this is my first completed blog entry, neither as profound nor eloquent as I had hoped for my premiere entry, but, as with NaNoWriMo, sometimes it's just about showing up and getting the words down on the page.

Write on!