Support the Arts and the Artists

We live in a time of rapid change where our systems and culture are going through major evolutions. Even the way we create and consume art is changing faster than we can process. Who knew, for instance, that CDs would become basically irrelevant someday, thanks to streaming technology?

There are so many new doors open to artists now than ever before – publishing on e-book platforms, whether you have a big-publisher contract or not, making your own musical CDs, recording audio books, creating online classes, digitizing (and mass producing from home) your artwork… We artists are incredibly blessed with these new options for creative expression and distribution.

However, there are iterations of artistic expression that I fear are being pushed further and further to the edge. Reading books – real, paper books – is one of those arts that seems to be wandering dangerously close to the path taken by CDs. (Why read and store a paper book when you can store all your reading materials on an electronic device, or listen to the audiobook, instead?) Letter writing comes to mind. (Who needs letters when we can email and text?) Even the practice of buying original prints seems to be dwindling in favor of mass-produced art.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2016

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2016

Thankfully, I don’t think any of these “old school” art forms will ever truly disappear, thanks the conscientious people of the world who believe in supporting fellow human beings over corporations. It’s these people who gave us Small Business Saturday, these people who encourage us to visit the locally-owned coffee shop rather than…well, you know where.

Let’s remember a few more ways in which we can support all those who are trying to create more beauty in this world. Do your best to support artists, local or not. Buy original prints, attend art fairs, and share your love of your favorite artists’ work with others.

And of course, some special (and not at all biased) tips for supporting indie writers:

::If the small writers you love are selling their work via Kindle, Nook, or other e-reader services, support it. Oftentimes, this is how indie writers get started because it’s an easy platform to break into. Yeah, it’s digital, but every download helps an indie writer build an audience.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2016

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2016

::If they have print books, please consider buying the print books. Buy copies as gifts for friends and family, too. It can be extremely challenging to get the word out about indie books – and there is no better way to spread the word than giving the book to others with a personal recommendation.

::Give an honest and clear review of the book. Reviews help enormously, whether it’s for a book, a podcast, or an Etsy shop. It’s okay if you hated the book – just explain why. Don’t give a book 1 star without any explanation.

::Get on your favorite indie authors’ newsletter lists and encourage those you think would enjoy that type of writing to do the same. This makes it so much easier for us to keep in touch and share our work with our devoted readers.

::If your favorite indie author is producing “slow literature,” do your best to support them in some manner. There are a lot of amazing writers, illustrators, and poets out there doing subscription services via the mail – and I mean the mail. Not email. I think this is incredibly original and fun, and it’s important to keep these types of offerings alive.

::Attend local events. It can be challenging for indie authors to put themselves out there. Give them a boost – fill up the room when they promote a reading/signing or other event. Bring some friends and smile a lot from the audience. And buy a book on your way out.

::Consider buying an extra book when you purchase your favorite indie author's latest release and donate the extra copy to the library. Indie publishing doesn't always have the same distribution capabilities, which means it's often harder to find an indie author's books at your local library unless they are donated. 

Let’s keep the art of paper books, storytelling, and intimate readings alive!

Many beloved programs supporting the arts and community service are in danger of being cut (again). If you support the National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps, and other such programs, please call your representatives and let them know!

The evolution of language and literacy

I have been longing to talk about reading, books, and literacy here on the blog for a long time now. After all, I’m a writer, and a former language arts teacher and Reading Specialist. But not so long ago, I felt like all I could talk about was skin care. Skin care and beauty will always have their place here at, but now it’s time to focus on my true love: all the many facets of storytelling (which includes, of course, the importance of reading).

I’ve noticed a fascinating trend* in youth over the past 10 years. During my years as a teacher, I found youth (from a very young age all the way up through the teen years) choosing smartphones and video games over books more and more often. (If you’re a parent, this probably won’t surprise you.) Many children genuinely have no interest in holding a paper book in their hands. If it isn’t on a screen, it isn’t worth their time.

When I first encountered this, I was shocked. I became a language arts teacher because I loved reading and I couldn’t wait to share the genius of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Morrison, Shakespeare, and Austen with my students. Of course, once I started teaching high school, I was a little frustrated working within the confines of very strict curriculum. Curriculum that, frankly, bored me. And if it bored me, I knew my students would be bored. I tried to jazz it up as best I could, but still, my students resisted every single assignment that required them to read – and in a language arts class, all the assignments required them to read.

It got to the point where every time I asked them to pull out their books, the entire room would erupt in one loud moan. Even when they were given time to read their own books, they resisted, tucking their phones into their books and texting their friends surreptitiously.

Why, I asked, again and again. Why this resistance to reading, which was (and still is) one of the greatest joys of my life? The answer I got, over and over, was that they hated the books that were chosen for them by school officials. Of course, I thought. That makes sense. Even as a passionate reader, I mostly hated the books I was forced to read in school, as well. Many students also shared with me that having been forced to read books they hated for so many years had given them an aversion to reading, entirely.

As my teaching career shifted, I found myself working with elementary-aged students who were struggling with literacy skills. They, too, had similar instructional circumstances as their older counterparts. They were given basal readers that they were required to read over and over (because many studies have shown that repetition in reading builds literacy skills and confidence).

Guess what? They hated it as much as the high schoolers hated reading Lord of the Flies.

Do they read at home? Not much, according to their parents (which contributes to their literacy challenges, by the way), even with the most well-intentioned parental guidance and effort.

I am both fascinated and troubled by this trend. Language and our interaction with language evolves over time. For instance, American English today has come a long way from American English of 150 years ago. Our languages will continue to evolve, of course, but today, we have an even newer factor at force in that evolution: code.

Technology is heavily influencing language. We have our text message acronyms which now pass for actual spoken words (even I catch myself saying “OMG!” from time to time) as well as other abbreviations and codes we have developed for the medium of texting. Then there is actual code. Make no mistake about it, technological coding (like HTML, CSS, etc.) is a language in itself, and more and more of us are becoming fluent or semi-fluent in these languages.

All of these factors will affect the evolution of our language – and how we interact with that language.

There is certainly some excitement to this. Though I admit I’m a bit of a neo-Luddite, I don’t believe that technology is all bad. Yes, I own a Kindle and I realize we must adapt with the changing times. It is important to meet kids within the world that they already live – not drag them back to 1985, when nothing excited me more than a trip to a Dalton Bookstore. Kids today live in front of screens, and as such, it’s our duty to meet them halfway. From my perspective, it seems like most kids have a smartphone these days – so why shouldn’t they have an e-reader, too? Yes, let’s give them the opportunity to read on their devices if that’s what it takes to get them reading.

However…I think it’s important to find a balance in this, as well. Though I don’t think printed books are on the road to extinction, it could happen. Ten years ago, I would never have believed CDs would basically become extinct and now I own only 5 - almost all my music is now in digital form.

Just in case, I think we need to hold on to the tradition of printed books. I think it’s essential that we teach children from a very young age the value and joy of holding a printed book in their hands. Take them to story time at your local library. Let them go to the store and pick out a new book more often than you take them to buy a new video game.

There are aspects of language and literacy that are going to evolve no matter what we do, whether influenced by technology or not. That’s a given in life. I think we can be mostly excited about what’s to come – there are amazing developments on the horizon.

However, I think it’s also important to hold on to the little things. The feel of real books in our hands. Flipping pages as we read. Closing a book and feeling its physical and emotional weight after finishing that last sentence. These are moments to cherish, moments we can’t experience with an e-reader.

Embrace technology, but don’t ever starve your home of real books. Make sure your children experience as much on paper as they do on their screens.

*Please understand that I’m writing this article entirely from my perspective and my observations from 10 years in the educational field working with hundreds of youth from the ages of 6 to 18.