Nine-Eleven

September 11, 2001.

The alarm blasted and I was on my feet, pulling on sweats, tying my hair in a quick ponytail. My three children — one in preschool and two in elementary school — scampered downstairs for bagels and scrambled eggs. They took tremendous pride in choosing their own outfits and complimented each other on the bright array of neon-red, sunburst-yellow and Ninja-Turtle-green seated at the kitchen table. My husband was upstairs, choosing a tie, listening to National Public Radio when the program was interrupted with breaking news. He took a moment to collect himself, then walked downstairs with an odd deliberateness, his tie hanging loose. We spoke quietly. Knowing our kids would hear about it at school, we told them. Their reaction was matter-of-fact, unworried, entirely age-appropriate.

All day, my phone rang. I was a therapist at the time, not yet an author, and parents from my children’s schools needed guidance. “What should I tell my kids?” “How much should I tell my kids?” “How can I help them feel safe when I’m terrified?” I talked to them about tailoring their answers to fit the needs of the child, about language that would make sense for different ages, about managing their own understandable fear.

In California, many of us were shielded from the immediate trauma experienced by the targeted areas. My family had relatives and friends in Manhattan, but we quickly heard that they were safe. Others weren’t so lucky. A nameless, faceless fear permeated our pretty little Bay Area town. Our new frontier catapulted us into a vulnerability that we had been privileged to deny until that day.

In the evening, I tucked my youngest child in bed and sang to her as always. But instead of my usual repertoire of The Beatles and my college fight song, I found myself singing America The Beautiful and The National Anthem.  My daughter curled up and closed her eyes, warm and safe.  I watched her sleep peacefully, and thought of the people in my homeland who struggled in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Something stirred and I sat quite still, waiting to clarify a shift deep within. Slowly, the shift took on an emotional structure and I clasped my hands around it. I was a born again American.

Now, with the current administration at the White House, I feel more committed than ever to preserving the integrity of my country.  I feel the same fierce loyalty I experienced on that day in 2001. But this time, I believe that our own leaders are our biggest threats.

Today, the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attack on my homeland, I’m renewing my vows to the United States of America. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the people, by the people, for the people. I stand, at the twilight’s last gleaming, with those who are targeted by our own government. I raise my voice for spacious skies and amber waves — for all races, all genders, all religions. I write for the day when we are truly indivisible, from sea to shining sea.

___

Amy’s Novels

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied, and in gratitude to the enriching diversity of Hollywood High School.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through her first year of training, working with a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and complex. Written with respect for the human capacity to heal, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Never Forget, September 11, Uncategorized

Let’s Unite For Texas

I will be donating 100% of my profits from August and September book sales to the Houston Food Bank and the Food Bank of Corpus Christi.

We live in a time of division, of literal and metaphorical walls. Whatever your belief system, whatever your political affiliation, whatever your personal values, wherever you cast your vote in the election — I’m reaching out to each and all of you, to my friends and colleagues, and to yours as well. Texas needs us.

Partisan politics have become a divisive force, but natural disasters are nonpartisan. Fear, loss and hunger are nonpartisan as well.

Let’s unite for Texas.

My Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Tightwire

My novels are available as ebooks, only $2.99. They can be put directly on a Kindle, or on any device using Amazon’s Free Reading Apps.

Click on the link for my Author Page on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

Thank you.

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Filed under Hurricane Harvey, Texas Floods, Uncategorized

Pardoning Racism, Banning Trans, Charlottesville

When I was in tenth grade, I heard a rumor that a group of football players had beaten another student to death because he was gay.

Fights were common in my high school. Gangs fought rival gangs. Boys fought over girls. Girls fought over boys. Gay students were targeted constantly.

This particular rumor was about a boy I knew by sight, but not by name. We shared no classes, had no friends in common. I noticed him in the sea of 3000 students, because he had the most astonishing blond hair I’d ever seen. As he stood in the quad, his yellow mane tumbled down his back in a stop-in-your-tracks river of gold. He was six feet tall, string-bean thin, dressed in white laced up pants, platform shoes, gauzy shirts.

One day he was gone.

My high school had a transient population, a significant number living on the streets, so this boy’s disappearance was unremarkable. Still, I felt haunted by the rumor itself, and equally by the casual way the rumor circulated. I began to ask about him, but nobody knew anything. Most chilling of all — nobody knew his name.

Decades later, I told a journalist friend that I was writing a novel about that rumor. She suggested that I visit the archives, do some research, find out if the murder actually took place. I hesitated and to my surprise, I heard myself telling her that I wasn’t writing about the real person. As the words came out of my mouth, I realized I had carried this boy deep within me since I was 15 years old, and he had taken on mythical proportions. I was writing about a fantasy figure – a homeless, undocumented, street kid — a parentless boy, who died of homophobia.  During that conversation, my novel’s silent hero was born.

As I wrote the book, I considered what to call him. I knew he’d be a curious combination of an extremely minor character, and simultaneously the most powerful presence in the novel. Should I give him a catchy nickname like Dash? A stately name like Hamilton? A likable name like Timmy? A powerful name like Rex? As I rejected one name after another, I realized that his character was grounded in his namelessness. So I kept him nameless, and built the entire plot around his namelessness.

The novel was published in 2013, years before Donald Trump was on my radar screen as a serious political figure. But now, as I watch the post election culture unfold, the divisive values that my novel fights against — a mentality of hatred and rage, of  Us vs. Them — those values have become our day-to-day reality. Living in hiding from the ICE raids. Dreamers. Families torn apart. Refugees blocked. Latinos, Muslims, women, Jews, Blacks, LGBTQ+.  My country’s Commander-In-Chief actively legitimizes a process of divisiveness, which is also a process of dehumanization.

And it gets worse. Now our president has pardoned Joe Arpaio, a racist who used his position as sheriff to target the Latino population, to spit on immigrants. Almost in the same breath, our president has banned transgender troops, relegating the trans population to a lesser than full-human status. He gave a tepid (at best) response to the white supremacist fiasco in Charlottesville, betraying everyone who rejects the idea of a master race.  It’s been quite a week.

And it gets even worse, because each of these acts goes beyond the act itself. Our president is endorsing and perpetuating ideas which diametrically oppose the foundation of our country. In the newly Divided States Of America, all people are not created equal.

It’s another form of taking away their names.

I wish the election results had been different. I wish our administration didn’t define empathy and decency as a self-interested power surge. I wish so many people in my homeland weren’t hurt by their statements, their policies, their actions.  I wish the people in charge understood that gaining power by stepping on others never works for long. Eventually, they’ll fall and as they fall, they’ll drag several innocent people with them. They’ll all land hard, and some will survive while others won’t. Donald Trump’s name will be remembered, but most of the names of the innocent casualties will be forgotten, caught in a crossfire of dehumanization.

I wish for a day when nobody has to live without a name.

___

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

A 15-year-old girl, Caroline Black, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and in gratitude to the enriching diversity of my high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through her first year of training, working with a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and complex. Written with respect for the human capacity to heal, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Charlottesville, Joe Arpaio, LGBT, racism, Trans Troops, Uncategorized

Moon Shadow

A moon shadow visited North Carolina. It traveled as only light can, streaking across the sky in a strange and majestic palette.  The sky held snakes of white, crescents of red, coronas of brightness. Darkness and light played with each other and against each other — fun and powerful, serious and strange.

In this moment, light was not meant for anything beyond its own essence — not for warmth, not to illuminate the way. Light was just light, valid in and of itself, a living entity.

August 21, 2017, a solar eclipse moved across the United States of America. From Oregon to Idaho to Missouri. Then on to South Carolina, and into my home in North Carolina. It will quickly continue its journey out of the United States, a rare trajectory, passport not required. This is bigger than any border patrol, a force not to be reckoned with, but rather to be acknowledged with tremendous humility.

Around two in the afternoon, the quality of light changed into something I couldn’t identify. I turned off the artificial lights to welcome the experience. Looking outside at the small forest in our back yard, some leaves still caught sunlight, but most held the deep green of night. The house turned dark, as though the light from the still-blue sky no longer spread in its usual style. By 2:45, the sky was still oddly blue, but the lawn was blanketed in shade, with odd patches of sunlight. Somehow, the atmosphere was both bright and dark, a layered complexity beyond my ability to comprehend. The air held a curious glow, a gold tinge. As I searched for words to describe what was unfolding, the eclipse was already moving on. By 3PM, the day’s second dawn entered my home and the light turned familiar.

I’ve rarely felt simultaneously so inept with writing and so comfortable with my own limitations. This eclipse was meant to surpass the scope of my abilities. Call it Nature, or God, or Science, or just plain Amazing — I find its power both astonishing and comforting. If another moon shadow ever decides to visit, I’ll turn out the artificial lights once again to give the eclipse the full playing field. I’ll look out on our trees and watch the leaves. I’ll feel saturated with light, with darkness and with gratitude.

____

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including the resistance, parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her work in their curriculum.

To learn more about Amy’s novels, visit her Author Page on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Fire And Rain

Grieving for a friend is rough. Grieving for a suicide adds new layers of harshness. Grieving for a 21-year-old suicide defies words. For a week after the phone call, my emotional range was too elemental for language, a visceral spectrum of fire and rain.

I think of this young man relaxing on the floor of our family room, bantering with my son, and I hope he’s at peace. I think of him curled up in his favorite red blanket, asleep on our couch, and I hope he’s resting in comfort. I think of how he sang and danced with my daughter, strumming a wooden stirring spoon. I don’t know if kitchen utensils are available through eternity, so if he needs one, I hope he finds a way to send a message. I’ll figure out how to launch a wooden spoon into the beyond.

Since he was close to my family, his parents kindly invited me to speak at his memorial. I thought of his helping me learn the unfamiliar inflections of The South, how we laughed over my many miscommunications when I first moved from California. I thought of his vibrant curiosity, his questions, his eagerness to explore — from writing novels to urban development, from bovine medical research to gender equality. I thought of the outstanding meals he cooked with my daughter and son and I smiled, remembering the chocolate and avocado cake he and my son somehow decided they had to bake — and yes, the result was as appalling as my daughter warned them it would be. I cried as I wrote his eulogy. I practiced my speech and broke down every time. I paused, trying to translate my grief into words. But I could only feel fire and rain.

At his memorial service, I expected to deliver the eulogy through tears, but I didn’t. My voice held strangely steady. However, my hands shook so violently that they felt like an alien appendage, detached and overwrought. I looked over the large room filled with his family and friends — bewildered, shattered, alive — and the notion that he was dead, truly dead, felt utterly absurd.

He was a young man of action, so I wish him Godspeed. But I’m not sure what that means. Maybe he’s a powerful current in an ocean’s depth, or the foamy rush in a river’s whitewater. Perhaps he’s a different kind of force — the drive within a poet to write, or the push within a scientist to discover.

I hope he rests in peace. But I don’t know what that means, either. Maybe his spirit quietly enriches the minerals of the soil, or gently guides the first spring tendrils toward the light. Although these thoughts are comforting, I’m painfully aware that I can conceive of his eternity only in the limited terms of my familiar world. Eternity is a place beyond the parameters of my imagination.

So I’ll stick to what I know: fire and rain — rage and cold, heat and water, warmth and sustenance, life and life.

 

TO ALL READERS:

If you are suicidal or fear for the safety of another person, please reach out.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1-800-273-8255 

The Trevor Project Lifeline  866-488-7386 

You can also call 911 for emergency assistance.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. She has written two novels, both available on Amazon. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable follows a group of friends through one year of high school, as they navigate the challenges of adolescence. Tightwire follows a rookie psych intern as she treats her first patient, a young man who discovers that therapy can help him confront a past filled with secrets, and move forward with strength and empowerment.

Amy’s Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Grieving, Suicide Prevention, Uncategorized

Curse With Care

As a mother of three, raising two sons and one daughter into adulthood, I grappled with the expected challenges of their developing speech — too loud, too soft, your turn to talk, your turn to listen, let’s find words. As they grew older, words became more complicated, especially during their high school years in The South. I stepped in several times, not with my children, but with their friends. A handful of teenagers (all Caucasian and male) thought it was “cool” (or worse, normal) to drop homophobic, transphobic or racially bigoted comments. Invariably, they were startled when I explained that in my home, hate-speech wasn’t allowed. But they were more surprised by my attitude toward cursing. They expected cussing to be outlawed, a transgression under any circumstance. Instead, I chose a different approach: Curse with care.

Cursing in itself doesn’t offend me, but it carries responsibility. The speaker needs to take into account many factors. The environment needs to be okay with it. All words, including curse words, should serve a productive purpose. Curse words should never be used as weapons — to shock, to offend, to frighten, to intimidate. Curse words carry more risk than other vocabulary, so those specific words need to be chosen with extra care.

Since Anthony Scaramucci’s ten days in President Trump’s inner circle, I’ve been thinking about curse words. As a liberal democrat, I’ve struggled with the values and policies of Donald Trump’s White House since he took office. I wasn’t surprised to find myself appalled by Mr. Scaramucci’s beliefs. But I was quite surprised at how deeply offensive I found his language. My reaction caught me off guard because bluntly: I’m hard to offend with curse words.

Just like there are different styles of speaking, there are different styles of cursing. My problem was not Anthony Scaramucci’s words in themselves. It was the context, the layers, the implications, the undercurrent. He trash-talked people simply because he could, which is a type of bullying behavior. He was provocative for the shock factor, which is a form of using words as weapons. He was pointlessly crude, which is just plain obnoxious.

As a writer, words are my tools of the trade. I consider every sound, inflection, meaning, rhythm, cadence. I include curse words in my writing, but only when they make sense. I think carefully, choosing words that are true to the character and necessary for the integrity of the story.

Words matter. So I try to write and speak with care. And always, to curse with care.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including the resistance, parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her work in their curriculum. 

To learn more about Amy’s novels, visit her Author Page on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under anthony scaramucci, curse words, language, resistance, Uncategorized

Mika, Joe, Lady Gaga

I can’t keep up with The White House.

As I work on this post about President Trump’s twitter attack on Mika Brzezinski, the next barrage of banner headlines is underway: Russian interference, Islamophobia, first-children crashing international meetings, more Russian interference. Each day, as I open my laptop to write, I wonder what calamity the next 24 hours will bring.

But as I scramble to keep up, I don’t want to lose track of Mika Brzezinski, because if those tweets were her “punishment,” I feel compelled to define her “crime.” First (and bad), she expressed an opinion different from President Trump’s. Second (and worse), she was critical. Third (and apparently worst of all), she’s a she. Tossing ideas around my head, deciding how to approach this post, my thoughts turned in a direction that surprised me: The Academy Awards.

In the aftermath of every night-at-the-Oscars, people revel in unbridled criticism. The tabloids trash outfits and hairstyles. Speeches are lauded and vilified. Subjects I find important (racism and gender equality) and those I find ridiculous (unflattering ball gowns) are reported as “Breaking News.” Usually, I find myself annoyed by the Oscar-aftermath, and I quickly move on. But I’ll never forget the 88th Academy Awards, when Lady Gaga and Joe Biden raised a collective voice against sexual assault.

Sexual assault is non-partisan. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, racial heritage, gender, political affiliation. The after for survivors is often private and hidden, and if they choose to come forward, many don’t find the support they deserve. While I respect Mika  Brzezinski’s public reaction to President’s Trump’s tweets, I hope she’s doing okay in private as well, because our Commander-In-Chief’s words were assaultive.

As a novelist, I ask myself repeatedly how I can effectively address real issues through pretend fiction. After careful consideration, I decided to include sexual assault in both of my novels. But again, I can’t keep up. Even if I wrote from dawn to dusk, every day, for the next century, I couldn’t cover the broad scope. This topic is loaded and layered, individual and complex, unique and universal. Possibly most damaging — it’s often forbidden. The gag order imposed on survivors, the code of silence among potential supporters, can be as emotionally damaging as the assault itself. And that’s why I chose to write about it.

I hope my novels (fiction) and blog posts (non-fiction) pave the way to open conversations, because a productive conversation forms a team. We don’t have to speak the same dialect, or identify as the same gender, or be in the same age group, or share partisan political beliefs, or worship in the same way, or look the least bit alike to form a strong team – case in point: Lady Gaga and Joe Biden.

I don’t wear make-up. My favorite sport is reading. I’ll never run for political office. I can’t manage to dredge up even a micro-fantasy about a blow-your-mind mic drop. And I’m joining the Lady-Gaga-and-Joe-Biden team.

You can join, too.

____

Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

A 15-year-old girl, Caroline Black, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and complex. Written in support of healthy sex and Marriage Equality, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under He For She, Joe Biden, Lady Gaga, Mika Brzezinski, NoMore, Uncategorized

From GRID To AIDS

July, early 1980s, San Francisco.

A month before my 25th birthday, I began my clinical training in mental health. I was doing a rotation in a crisis clinic, a small psych emergency room affiliated with a larger hospital. I was eager to get out of the classroom and start working with clients. I had no idea that the nation’s health care community was at a crossroads, entirely unprepared for what was about to unfold.

Within a few weeks, we began to see a new presentation, which quickly developed into a dreadful pattern. A young man would be brought in, overtly psychotic or confused and delirious. We’d ask questions and find out that he had a steady job, a strong friendship group, sometimes a partner, and no psych history. Further questions would rule out recreational drugs as the cause. He’d also have a recent medical history that made no sense – sometimes a rare form of cancer, sometimes terrible skin lesions, sometimes a parasite only seen in sheep. He would have lost an alarming amount of weight in a startlingly short period of time. He would be in his 20s and gay. He was a healthy young man, who was inexplicably dying.

Initially, we didn’t understand the cause (single agent? combination?), or how the virus was transmitted (sexual contact? airborne? insect bite?). Until that point, “Safe Sex” meant preventing pregnancy; the idea of gay men using “protection” during sex was ludicrous. As the medical community realized that HIV was sexually transmitted, many people put up huge resistance to precautions like using condoms and closing the famous San Francisco bath houses. With our nation’s bruised history of homophobia (which is sadly ongoing), with self-proclaimed religious leaders ranting that AIDS was a “scourge” from God, folks in the gay community understandably wondered if these “protective measures” were the actually the next bigoted attempts to shut down gay sex.

I remember having lunch with a group of residents at the hospital. We were all in training, in different fields of medicine. One woman in pediatrics – bright, dedicated and decent to the bone — asked if the patients I had seen were truly all gay men, or if that was homophobic propaganda. I assured her it was true — which made no sense to any of us. We sat around our table and brainstormed, wondering if there could be some sort of Andromeda Strain phenomenon, making males in their 20s more vulnerable than females in their 90s. But that didn’t help us understand the gay factor or the sheep. One of the residents grew up on a farm, and we questioned him about rare illnesses in animals…which of course clarified nothing.  In all of the patients I had seen, 100% were gay and male; 0% had contact with sheep. Looking back, it seems like an idiotic discussion; at that time, we were scrambling – sharply aware that as we ate our sandwiches, people were dying.

Over time, the diagnosis evolved from Gay Cancer or GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) to AIDS. But we still had no medication to manage the condition. AIDS was a death sentence, and the path from diagnosis to death was brutal.

The following year, my training program offered the opportunity to work on the “AIDS Ward” at San Francisco General Hospital. This unit was set up solely for AIDS patients, staffed entirely by people who chose to be there. Even as a trainee, I was given the choice to opt out, because everyone was so frightened. But I figured if I asked my patients to step up and deal with their fear, then the least I could do was step up and deal with my own. To this day, I’ve never seen a better-run unit in any hospital. I’ve never been in an environment with a stronger sense of teamwork, with more exemplary patient care. Working on the AIDS Ward was a privilege.

It was also a heart-break. As a psych trainee, I was called in for mental health issues. Some patients needed meds when the virus attacked their brain, but most needed to talk. They asked questions, trying to understand. Sometimes I had answers; usually I didn’t. I listened to their stories, each unique, each the same.

My main role was to help them catch up to themselves. AIDS had slammed them, a blitzkrieg assault with such force that they had no time to adjust. Some showed me photographs, pre-AIDS, smiling and strong.  The pictures captured an experience that defied language, as they grieved for their former selves. I helped them build an emotional bridge between their then and their now.

I’ll always remember those young men who lived, loved, fought, lost. I’m grateful to them, to their friends and to their families for allowing me into their lives and into their deaths. I wish I could tell them, all these years later, that they paved the way for others to survive. I hope they know how valuable they were to me. I dedicate this post to them.

____

Amy’s Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying at school, and follows a girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and find individual paths to becoming LGBT allies.

Tightwire follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of clinical training, treating a stormy and talented young man. This book tracks a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight. Two other important characters are a lesbian couple, raising two children, who become role model parents to the main character. This is a story of the importance of becoming your full self.

Click here to check out Amy’s recent blog posts, read reviews, purchase her novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under AIDS awareness, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, Uncategorized

Something About Singers

There’s something about singers.

For those of us who sing in the shower and wisely nowhere else, the bond among singers is difficult to understand.

My husband and I met in college at Yale, but I wasn’t his first love. A year before our paths converged, he was introduced to a capella singing, and he fell head over heels. He sang first with a group called The Duke’s Men, then as a senior with The Whiffenpoofs. Music and singing shaped his entire college experience — his friendships, his personal growth, even his academic development. When he applied to law school, his personal statement was about touring with the Whiffs, singing and socializing with a Japanese university choir. That experience provided more than a bridge between two languages; their singing, together, created a shared language.

At Yale, the social scene revolving around a cappella singing was big. Actually, huge. For three semesters, I was happily involved in other activities, entirely unaware. Then spring term, sophomore year, I met the man I’d eventually marry, and my a capella education began.

I don’t mean voice lessons. I continued to pursue my own activities (which should evoke deepest gratitude from every voice teacher in the greater New Haven area). I learned that singing is a powerful force, connecting and affirming. Singers have a curious relationship to music — physical and emotional, personal and interpersonal. They sing for themselves, for each other, for their audience. Their voices become the ties that bind, simultaneously reaching deep within and soaring beyond their own parameters.

When he was tapped into the Whiffenpoofs as a senior, my not-yet-husband stepped into a new level of musicality. The Whiffs created wonderful sounds, but they were also unmistakably college kids — high on their own power source, losing their equilibrium at every turn, swept into the currents of their own undertow. Some of their ties strengthened, others strained, a few snapped. They graduated and scattered.

Then everything changed.

My husband and I attended the first Whiff reunion, five years out of college. I watched these men meet, this time as adults. They talked. Then they sang. Before my eyes, they moved firmly together, their voices connected in consonance and in dissonance. I realized — and I watched them realize — they were bonded for life. I’ve never seen a transformation quite like it.

Every five years, for over thirty years, they’ve met. Each time, they reaffirm their vows to each other and to their music.  I’m not always a part of their reunions, but when I am, I’m awed. It’s wonderful, startling, beyond reason, absolutely baffling — and it always will be.

There’s something about singers.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade as her new school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including college, parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her work in their curriculum. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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Filed under a capella singing, singers, Uncategorized, Whiffenpoofs, Yale

Tears And College Applications

“I shouldn’t cry.”

(Why not?)

“I’m sorry.”

(You’re not doing anything wrong.)

“You can leave the room if you want.”

(Why in the world would I want to do that?)

For several years, I’ve coached high school seniors on writing their college application essays. Every student is different, and my job is to help them bring out their unique voices. The tools of my trade are simple: Laptop, pen, paper. But one tool is deceptively complex: I always provide, prominently displayed, a large box of tissues.

Many students cry, and tears are often an important part of their writing process. Their tears make sense. They’re stepping forward, trying out a new level of autonomy, facing a strange world. It’s scary, filled with potential, brimming with emotion. Most are surprised to find themselves crying, and they’re mortified. They apologize (“I’m sorry”). They’re embarrassed (“I shouldn’t cry.”) They assume I’m uncomfortable and offer me an escape hatch (“You can leave the room if you want.”). But I assure them that if there are tears, there’s also heart. And if there’s heart, there’s a wonderful, moving essay waiting to be tapped.

Crying takes different forms for different people. Sometimes my students become choked up, or their eyes fill with tears — a fleeting moment, and then composure. Sometimes they need to take a break, racked with sobs. Sometimes they write as they cry. Most important, I always encourage them not to fight the tears. Instead, I guide them to follow their own tears to their deepest internal source, and then bring that source back to the surface, into the words that will shape their essays. If they’re fighting their own tears, they’re fighting their own selves.

Not all students cry; their source grows from a different part of their emotional core. But for those who cry, the source of their tears invariably leads to an essay of authenticity and character. Their tears are valuable, an unerring guide. Their essays sing, chant, speak, whisper, shout.

The process of writing is often an experience of tremendous personal growth. In our initial meeting, students usually arrive stressed and overwhelmed; in our final meeting, they’re completely surprised by the empowerment they own. They grow before my eyes, simultaneously fawn-like and mature. I’m so honored to be a part of each journey.

It moves me to tears.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a new school that opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including college applications, adolescence, parenting and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her work in their curriculum. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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