Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day Writers Project

Thoughts and musings for Memorial Day on the bravery and value veterans bring to our lives! Thank you for your service!

From 2011 through 2014 I was involved in a Creative Writing MFA Program through the University of New Orleans. It was a low residency program, so it was online during the school year and then each summer we’d get together for a month-long residency abroad.

The flexibility of this program was one of the best things about it. As a result, it attracted a diverse student population. People of all ages, from all over the country, with entirely different life experiences were amongst my classmates.

It’s amazing how fast you get to know a person once you read their writing. Who needs small talk and ice breakers when you’re immediately reading a person’s inner-most thoughts and experiences? Fiction or not– there are always traces of the author’s real life and personality on that page.

Hurricane survival, divorces, medical issues, motherhood– we glimpsed it all through the words on the page. But the experiences that really stood out for me were the ones shared by military veteran classmates.

There were some of the expected heroic moments in action pieces and examinations of mortality. But there were other truly surprising reflective stories about human emotions, commonalities in cultures, and appreciation of the small things in life.

One of my favorite pieces was about the smell of rain in the air (petrichor, it is apparently called). The piece was absolutely beautiful and surprisingly peaceful for the haunting setting of a soldier on patrol in Afghanistan.

I was raised with two veteran grandfathers in my family. One who never spoke about his military experience, and one whose stories became family legend. I think this is a common classification amongst veterans– those who cope by burying and those who cope by sharing.

The Memorial Day Writers project originated from a group of the latter. A trio of Vietnam veterans created an annual assembly of veterans who wanted to create beauty from their catharsis. Every year they gather by the Vietnam monument and share song lyrics, poetry, and stories.

I admire the bravery of these men and women. Not only for their service, but also their willingness to lay themselves bare and create something beautiful from their pain.

So on this Memorial Day- I thank you veterans. I thank those who sacrificed their lives for us. I thank you all for your service. And for those who have returned, I thank you for the many ways you enrich us daily from your experiences.

Read more of Joyana’s articles about history, life and writing here!

The Shakespeare Mystery

Shakespeare Mystery

Analyzing the Shakespeare Mystery– Was Shakespeare REALLY the true author of his plays and sonnets?

Shakespeare Mystery

The Shakespeare Mystery

There are so many questions asked when analyzing the Shakespeare Mystery. Did he really exist or was he a pen name? Was he really a Catholic hiding in Protestant England? And one of the most elusive of all- were his first sonnets published with his permission?

Alive or Dead? Permission or Not– That is the Question.
On May 20th 1609, the first folio of Shakespeare’s sonnets was published. A man named Thomas Thorpe was listed as the publisher. However, there was no dedication written by Shakespeare and no mention of him involved in the editing or acknowledgements. How could that be?

Critics and historians have analyzed and debated this for hundreds of years, if Shakespeare was still supposedly alive for this publication, why was he not involved in it? And an even bigger question- why were the publication and proceeds not listed in his estate or will?

Some use this as evidence to prove that William Shakespeare really wasn’t the author of the famous plays and sonnets. Others argue that it proves Thorpe published without Shakespeare’s permission. But if that was the case, why didn’t Shakespeare contest it after the fact?

I’ve always found the Shakespeare Mystery intriguing. Personally, I hope we never find real answers to these questions. I hope this for a few reasons.

One- I think I’d be heartbroken if he was ever truly discredited. I’ve been to Stratford Upon Avon, I’ve walked where he walked, seen his grave etc. And I love the idea of a self-taught author who was able to express his genius without any formal training.

And Two- I think the not knowing honestly adds to the romance and mystery of his works. I mean, combined with the magic of Macbeth or Midsummer Night’s Dream– how could you not appreciate the added mystery surrounding the author? The potential suspension of disbelief or acceptance of the unknown?

To me, these swirling mysteries regarding Shakespeare allow him to be held as this almost mythical figure apart from us mere mortals. I applaud the critics and historians who want to crack the case. But for me, I’m content with leaving this as one of life’s great mysteries and perhaps even chalking it up to– magic.

Check out Joyana’s other blog posts on literature, history and other fun stuff here!


Have you joined Joyana’s Newsletter yet? Sign up here to get a FREE short story and never miss a future article!

The History of Mother's Day

The History of Mother’s Day

Believe it or not, Mother’s Day was not always about cards or brunch celebrations.

The History of Mother's Day

The History of Mother’s Day

Do you know the real history of Mother’s Day? It might surprise you!

We assume Mother’s Day was created as a legal holiday to honor mothers signed into effect by a President. Well, that did happen. (Thanks President Wilson!) But that was not the true origin of the holiday. The first Mother’s Day origins came much earlier and for very different reasons. Read on to learn about the true history of Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day began as a women’s movement to repair the nation after the Civil War. Two incredible women led the way: Ann Reeves Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe.

The History of Ann Reeves Jarvis

Known as “Mother Jarvis”, – Ann Reeves Jarvis was an Appalachian activist, who wanted to find ways to bridge the gaps between the two sides during the war. She created women’s brigades to help any women and children in need regardless of which side they supported. After the war, she continued bringing people together by organizing Mother’s Clubs dedicated to helping newly widowed mothers (again from both sides) better their living conditions.

The History of Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe was another formidable force during the Civil War. She was a famous poet. In addition, to penning the Battle Hymn of the Republic, she also used her writing gifts to encourage thought and pacifism. She penned a proclamation, dedicated to celebrating peace and ending the war. She believed mothers, in particular, were key to preventing future cruelties and lives lost in war. She called for an annual Mother’s Day for Peace where women could gather and further their cause. After all, every soldier has a mother.

Howe’s version of Mother’s Day was held in Boston and other locations for over 30 years. However, it fell apart during World War I.

Mother’s Day and any forms of its celebration was forgotten until Jarvis’s daughter brought it back to life. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis wanted to memorialize her mother and honor her legacy. She believed establishing a national day to commemorate mothers would be the perfect way to do that.

She began campaigning and lobbying national groups for support. And on May 10, 1907 she held the first Mother’s Day ceremony. The city of Philadelphia repeated the ceremony the following year and the mayor soon declared it a public holiday.

From there, appeals continued for national support and in 1914, Mother’s Day was declared a federal holiday.

Some would say we’ve lost sight of the original sentiment behind the day over the years. We’ve allowed it to get commercial and be another excuse for cards, gifts and obligation. Yes, we should most definitely pamper our mothers on this day. (Seriously guys, get that massage gift card to honor their hard work, please!)

But let’s take a moment to remember the original intent behind the day as well. The original founders recognized something sacred about the bonds of motherhood. Let’s face it, there is a lot of ugliness in the world. And it often feels we have more differences than things in common. But there is one bond that transcends all the differences in the world. Across cultures, socioeconomic status etc.,. – there is no more common bond than the bond of motherhood.

So, on this upcoming Sunday- while you toast at brunch or whatever you’re doing to celebrate, perhaps take a moment to remember that original intent to repair and further the efforts for peace. Mothers, we all want what’s best for our children. So, let’s work together and do what we can to make this world a better place for them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Read more of Joyana’s posts about history, books and words here!

The History of Unions in America

The History of Unions in America

What’s the story with unions?

The History of Unions in America

The History of Unions in America

Unions– love them, hate them– they’re an integral part of our labor history in America. And they’ve been in the news a lot recently. Between the fights with teacher unions and return to school plans last year to now Starbucks and Amazon locations voting to unionize– there are a lot of big feelings on this topic. But why is it so controversial?

Some Background History of Unions in America

The early forms of unions were craft guilds or mutual aid organizations working to protect workplace entry and conditions for skilled artisans. It didn’t raise too much resistance because these artisans were small in number as were the organizations who hired them. It wasn’t until industrialization that more of a gap between the workforce and employers came to be. Soon, workers began to see a threat emerging against both their wage and status.

The mid to late 1800s became a violent time in labor history. Unions utilized general strikes and rallied for standards like an eight-hour work day and livable wages. However, big businesses were heavily involved in government and local law enforcement as well as cohesive in supporting their own common interests. It was also socially accepted for employers to use brutal violence against striking workers. Therefore they succeeded in limiting the growth of trade unions and quashing most of their efforts at the time.

The turn of the century brought a new approach to union efforts. The American Federation of Labor was founded with the belief that individual unions were too fragmented to withstand the violence orchestrated against them. Instead, they recruited unions to band together under one large organization. Under AFL support, they were able to withstand the onslaught of retaliation from employers with unemployment pay and benefits.

The National Civic Federation (NFL) went one step further and brought leaders from both the trade unions and corporations together. Their explicit goal was diplomacy and with them the premise of collective bargaining was born.

Where the Controversy Comes In

On paper, unions appear to be entirely altruistic and no-brainers. However, as with everything in life– nothing is that simple. With larger organizations there are compromises in the name of the greater good at the expense of the individual. There are also politics that come into play.

Over the years, workers have rebelled against the idea of wages being garnished to support the union for what they felt was little return for their own individual benefits. Right to work laws came into play to support worker’s individual choice to opt out of union protection.

Some feel this has hampered unions and limited their protections and is why we have seen a downfall in their involvement and popularity in the last thirty years. We are a capitalist society that is run by the bottom-line. Both in our own households and in keeping a business running. But there are always two sides to every story.

When you’re arguing against an employer’s whim to fire or downsize without merit– you are also going to get an underperforming worker who is difficult to fire. You’re also going to get employers needing to make the difficult decision to raise prices for consumers to pay for a livable wage for their employee.

But on the other side, is it fair for a worker to be forced to choose between their safety, health or newborn infant and their paycheck? Or for an employer to mislabel a worker as an independent contractor to avoid paying benefits and taxes?

Just as the girls in the Triangle were fighting against the injustice railed against them– there are still many employees in this country with the deck stacked against them. Whatever the answer is– unionizing, legislation, or consumer support against corporations– we must be aware. The job is not done. Support is still needed– the fight for Worker’s Rights is far from over.

Read Joyana’s other posts on history, books and words here!

The History of the Dictionary

The History of the Dictionary

How did the dictionary come to be?

The History of the Dictionary

The History of the Dictionary

We’ve all heard the phrase look it up in the dictionary. But how did it actually come to be? What is the history of the dictionary?

On April 15th 1747, Samuel Johnson published an English dictionary at over 43,500 words.

It wasn’t the first dictionary ever published, but it was by far the most comprehensive English language dictionary of its time. It was also the first that ever published etymologies and various meanings for words.

It took Johnson and and several part time copyists eight years to compile the definitions. Although comprehensive, it had many biases and limitations, most being that Johnson had some quirky ideas about standards for word inclusion.

There have been other dictionaries that have been published since Johnson’s edition– the most famous being Webster’s and the Oxford editions. Both of which were even more comprehensive in their development. However, were they any more objective?

I recently read an interesting book called The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams. It really heightened my understanding and awareness of the bias in the English language. Williams went into great detail to discuss the differences in word choices and meanings for class and gender. 

I feel this is something we still see today. Even with creations of “urban” dictionaries, there are still varying forms of slang, cultural, racial, regional, and even ageist bias in the use of the English language. 

Not to mention, with technology and social media- new words, phrases, memes and meanings are created at the speed of light.  Think of the new context behind the use of the name “Karen” or phrase “Let’s go Brandon.”

Is there any wonder that people will forever be lost in understanding the true implications of conversational English? 

Language is tricky, so much can be lost in translation, and understanding. However, there is also a beauty in its complexity. Could language ever be truly objective? Would we even want it to be?

 Much like a woman, words will always contain more than immediately meets the eye. You have to dig deeper to understand the true context and layers in its meaning. 

Maybe that’s the problem so far- these dictionaries have all been compiled by men… 😉

Check out Joyana’s other blog posts on words, history, and books here!

The Magic of Wordle

The Magic of Wordle

Why has this game swept the world so quickly?

The Magic of Wordle

Did you get today’s Wordle?

If you haven’t joined the Wordle bandwagon yet, you’re missing out! The game is spreading like a wildfire, gaining in popularity each day.  

So, what is it, and what’s the appeal? What is the magic of wordle?

Wordle was created by a software engineer in Brooklyn for his partner during the pandemic. First, it was just a private word guessing game the two of them played, but then they added it to a family What’s App group and before long it was shared with friends etc. After seeing the widespread appeal, they decided to release it to the world last October. 

Wordle is probably one of the simplest interface and concepts imaginable. It is literally just a five letter guessing game with six chances to guess the word of the day. Guess a letter correct and it changes color depending on placement and inclusion in the word. 

So, what makes Wordle so special vs other word games out there? Many would say it’s the shared community. Others say it’s the one word answer per day. It literally takes three minutes of your time and then you move on with your day. You can even stoke that competitive spirit by sharing your results on your social media feed with a widget blurring out the letters to prevent spoilers.

There’s also the user friendly approachability to the game. Anyone old or young can play. There’s nothing to download, just type it in online and it pops right up. I’ve played and compared letters with my seven-year-old son, my in-laws, strangers in line for coffee, and eighth grade students while subbing. 

That’s it, five minutes of using your brain to guess letters and you  share a secret with the world.

So, if you haven’t yet,  join the fun- and try the magic of Wordle

Do you really like word games and want to continue the fun after the five minutes? Here’s a few others to try:

FreeRice.com– Practice your vocabulary, grammar and trivia skills, all while donating rice/food to the World Food Programme!

Spelling Bee-  How many words can you make with seven letters?

Enjoy and happy word games!

Check out Joyana’s blog posts on words, books and life here!