This coming weekend, I’ll be playing in a music festival. Yay for music festivals! Yay for anything that combines outdoorsiness, tunes, and safe togetherness. Also tacos, I hear.
Which means it’s time for me to do my part and help drum up community support for this all-day affair, tirelessly put together by some very dedicated folks. Which means…promo.
I know of zero writers and only a tiny handful of musicians who enjoy promoting their own work. Taking part in an interview, sure, or maybe designing a poster if your artistic chops extend to the visual arts, but otherwise? Meh.
Case in point: yes, this blog contains clickable images of the books I’ve written, but when was the last time I actually tried to sell you one? Exactly.
But! This music festival is not about me; my set is 30 minutes out of a full day. It’s about COMMUNITY MUSIC! So with that in mind…ahem…may I present:
If you live on Lopez, I very much hope you can make it. If not, I hope you can make some event to support the arts in your community! I’m guessing probablyno one where you live wants to self-promote either. So make it easy on ’em and just show up!
And thank you, thank you for supporting your local artists. Isn’t it wonderful we get to do this again?
It’s official: COVID-19 is no longer cool. It’s hanging out with me and the Mate.
Understand, we’re the kind of folks who started watching “The Office” in its fourth season. Who are only now talking about maybe watching “The Mandalorian.” Want to know why Facebook’s been on a slow downward slide among young people since 2010? That’s when I joined. (The Mate is actually cooler than I am; he’ll never join.)
Luckily, we have a whole bunch of “luckilies”: We were in good health. We both got only mild symptoms (the Mate, mostly fatigue; me, a juicy head cold with a lingering cough). While we did have to cancel some parts of our lives that affected other people (sorry, my fellow bakers & musicians!), we didn’t have to miss anything huge like a family gathering (or, I don’t know, an MFA residency). Most importantly, we have not, to our knowledge, spread the virus to anyone else.
Also luckily for me, thanks to my MFA homework, I have a voracious appetite for all the extra time COVID has gifted me. For example, here’s what I’ve read since I came home from LA just under a month ago:
I’m also super grateful for having to isolate myself during such stellar weather, as Lopez Island is (so far) not suffering from the heat wave overtaking most of the rest of the globe.
I do confess to being VERY tired of the gunk in my lungs. But it also reminds me of my English teaching days, when I’d introduce a Shakespeare unit by teaching the kids about the “Four Humors” of medieval “medicine.” Depending on which planet you were born under, one of the liquids running through your body would dominate the others, thereby determining your personality.
Those four humors? Blood, yellow bile, black bile, and…wait for it…phlegm.
We still carry the vestiges of the Four Humors in our personality adjectives today. You can be sanguine (cheerful), bilious or choleric (angry), or, my own humor–phlegmatic! (Students were much less grossed out once they learned this meant “deep” or “hard to read”.)
As an on-the-cusp Scorpio, I’ve never felt very in tune with my sign. But right now, thanks to COVID, I’ve never felt more phlegmy–I mean phlegmatic. And I’ll take that Humor right now, thank you very much. Gotta accentuate the positive till it finally turns negative.
Maya the Malamute here again, with my report on What I Did On My Summer Vacation. It’s a very short report. Ready?
Ahem: It. Was. LAME.
Here’s me, heading out last month in the car of this new hooman Gretchen said was coming to “take me home”…or was it “re-home me”?
Sometime this spring she started taking lots of pretty pictures of me, saying stuff like, “I feel like a Picture Bride agent.”(Whatever that meant.) I even got to pose with wildflowers in the rain!
Then she threw a party for me. EVERYONE got treats. But I gotta say, it did seem like I got more attention than usual.
Next day: new hooman. Walkies. Talkies. Car. I noticed my old hooman Gretchen making funny faces and sounds as we drove away.
What happened next isn’t worth writing about. The new hooman took me on walks but then he had to “go to work,” and there wasn’t anyone else. I may have howled. A lot.
Some time passed. Not really sure how to describe that part. Two demolished stuffies’ worth of time? One very uncertain new hooman? I was definitely getting BORED.
So we got back in his car. We drove and drove. And then I got out of his car and there was Gretchen again. She was happy to see me. I got back into her car. We drove and drove. We stopped at a park for walkies. It was a hot day. Gretchen had a nap. I had a salad.
When we finally got back on the ferry, we both felt like we were right where we were supposed to be.
So now I’m back home with my main hoomans. They still talk about showing my pictures to other people, but like, of course they do! ‘Cause I’m gorgeous.
…although, come to think, if you do have any extra stuffies? I’m feeling a little peckish.
My first day back in the Evergreen State after returning from the first residency for my MFA in Creative Writing, I went for a short hike in the Cascade foothills.
As I headed up the trail, I glimpsed a cliff through the woods, and hearing voices, stopped to look. Of course: a climbing group was gathering at the base. I couldn’t make out their words, but I assumed they were talking about routes, or gear, or who was going to try what. Since I’m a hiker, not a climber, I headed on up the trail, silently wishing them safe fun.
Then it hit me: that giddiness from the steep learning curve of my first residency? That wasn’t just fear of inadequacy or excitement over reaching new levels in my art–though yes, it was also both. That curve is even steeper than I’d thought. And what’s really happening is, as a writer, I’m trading hiking for cliff-scaling.
For the past 25 years, I’ve been step-by-cautious step, trudging up a marked path…
…but now, I’m going vertical. Straight up. I’m trying things I’ve never tried as a writer, and I’m all in. No more dabbling, fitting writing in where I can, taking whole seasons off. No more excuses. I’m learning craft, and my teachers are going to expect craft back.
…that same cliff those climbers were preparing to scale. And I gave myself this little pep-talk:
“Yes, you’re spending a huge amount of money and time to learn to write the kind of book you most want to read. But you have new tools and a crew now, you’re all roped up, and you get to spend the next 2 years discussing routes and gear and who’s going to try what. Yes, you might fall, but you won’t die, and your crew will help you find your way back up.”
If you look closely at the bottom of that cliff, you’ll see them there: my imaginary writing crew.
Now imagine me halfway up that cliff, scared to death, but finding my route. Here we go.
The first afternoon of my shiny-new Masters in Creative Writing residency in Culver City, a worried-looking man at the bus stop I was walking past stopped me, in halting English, with a question. Based on his appearance, I guessed he had immigrated from central Africa…but when his English failed, he tried a nice, fluent Spanish–and there we found a common place to converse about bus routes (and the fact that I, an out-of-towner, knew less than he did).
“Now that was an LA moment,” I thought. And that’s why I’m here: for the writing instruction, yes–but even more for the moments I cannot experience via Zoom.
Greater Los Angeles is a stunning place, in all the meanings of that word.
Since I’m here in full Writer Mode, I’m noticing every way that I’m being stunned, mostly on my 2-mile, twice-daily walks between the campus of Antioch University Los Angeles and the wonderful friends who are hosting me. Starting with these astounding ficus trees, planted down multiple Culver City streets…
…whose roots are painfully constrained by concrete, and yet–they tower.
Since I’m entirely on foot, thanks be, I only have to deal with traffic when I cross the street. But this vehicle caught my eye as an embodiment of SoCal culture:
Antioch U itself is housed in a stunningly corporate-looking building, one of a cluster offering office space to such stunningly _____ (insert your own adverb here) corporations as Tik-Tok.
I’ve never worked in a building like this, but this scene through a window on the ground floor tells me that at least someone in there has a good sense of humor:
Being, y’know, corporate and all, the building-cluster is thoroughly landscaped…
…and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I found this Pacific Northwestern sister, this madrona tree, literally chained to a concrete block.
I have no critique of Angelenos or anyone else who chooses to live in a megalopolis. There’s just so much here here, it takes my breath away. So I’m finding special comfort in whatever feels familiar–not in that creepy, chained-down-madrona way, but like these adorable turtles…
…in the grotto pool of the Catholic cemetery I cross through on my walks to & from campus.
In the end, everyone wants to feel at home, whatever home means, right? Which is a good thing to be pondering as I launch into a brand-new writing project with some brand-new helpers who come from places so very, very different from my little island. In the end, we all want comfort, whether that means a shiny sports car, an untethered tree…or just a sweet cat to lie on our tummy.
A question—really two questions in one—came from a woman attending my most recent author event. It was about hope, specifically whether my research forWriter in a Life Vestmade me feel hope about the Salish Sea and the climate crisis, or whether my study prompted hopelessness.
“Yes,” I replied.
That night at Third Place Books, all the chairs were filled with longtime friends, family, and a number of folks I didn’t know. I’d been interviewed by writer friend David B. Williams; he’d asked me to describe the book, we discussed the variety of essay forms I used, and he prodded me to talk about my stint as Writer-in-Residence on the Washington State Ferries.
David also asked me to read from the collection, specifically the essay “Salish Sea Account.” It’s one of the first pieces I wrote as I studied the 7,000 square miles that comprise…
Yes. Hi. Me too. There’s a bunch of us in this…boat, this space, this era.
I want to share two things I’ve been leaning on a bit when the pressure of words and feelings builds up.
Number One: I try to capture magic sensory moments in my day. This morning it was the unexpected scent of wild roses on my walk. Yesterday it was the gentle breath of the air when the wind finally dropped. And a couple of days ago, at the Dump, it was this stunning image inside the glass dumpster:
Someone–maybe one of our community’s glass artists?–had dumped a large pile of crushed glass on top of the usual bottles, and then, in a fit of artistry I guess, added a small glass sea star on top.
I took that photo, then got everyone else at the dump to take a look themselves. Voila–instant joy, in a dumpster.
Number Two: You know the game Bananagrams? It’s lovely, and I recommend it. But my sons and I play a variation on the game that we call Scramble. I won’t describe Scramble here, because it’s as fast & furious as it sounds–lots of fun, but not at all restful or comfortable. But SOLITARY Scramble is both. Here’s how it works.
Dump all 144 Bananagrams tiles out and turn them blank-side-up. 2. Turn 4 letters over and try to make a word. If you can’t, keep turning over tiles until you can. 3. Once you have a word, continue turning tiles, one at a time. But (HERE’S THE FUN PART) 4. Try to fit each new letter into an EXISTING word before creating a new one.
A few rules, of course. Adding letters to existing words requires re-arranging the word. You can’t just make something plural, change “bask” to “basking”, or “world” to “worldly”. You CAN change “bask” to “basket,” or “world” to “whorled.” Or even “latrine” to “relating.”
Unlike regular Scramble, where you’re trying to use letters before your fellow players do, Solitaire Scramble is deliciously slow. Deliberate. No backsies–whenever you’ve used a letter, you can’t later move it to another word! So take your time.
Hint: pay attention to “ING” and “ED” and “TION” possibilities. If you find the 4-letter-word minimum too challenging, start with three.
And if you’re both careful and lucky, you might just end up with a PERFECT ROUND, using up all 144 letters:
Now THAT is comfort: a good 45 minutes spent on nothing but language.
Anyone else? Comforting little moments to share? My spirits will thank you.
Hyperbole alert: my parents have given me and my sisters uncountable great gifts over the past 6 and a half decades, starting with, y’know…life. Nurturing. Education. That ol’ stuff.
But this one? This one’s right up there, beyond bicycles and maybe even musical instruments. It’s a slow-mo gift, for sure, but it…has…begun: my parents are starting to divest themselves of Things.
I can’t call it “de-cluttering,” because most of it is great stuff: sports equipment, books…more books, more sports equipment…OK, that’s pretty much my family in a nutshell. They also have a lot of art, but I don’t think they’re giving that away just yet.
Most specifically, my mom startled me this week by mentioning the “bare shelves in the living room.” Now, I knew of my dad’s plan to donate all his science books to the Duke Bio-Sci Building’s Student Reading Lounge–a place dedicated to the delicious art of book-browsing, a practice that’s gone the way of the card catalogue. But I didn’t realize he meant to donate them, like…now! So I got my mom to send me some pictures.
Here’s the “before”:
And here’s, well–now:
Clearly, there’s still one shelf to go…but I kind of hope it stays there as a reminder of all those decades.
To give a sense of the history of our house’s book-walls, here’s me and my mom and sisters with our grandparents back in…let’s say 1964.
So. Let this be a lesson to me. What lesson? Pick one: Never too late to divest yourself. Never too old to surprise your children (my parents are about to be a combined 179 years old). Never too old to make a difference in this world. Or just to finally do what they made us girls do, and Clean Your Room!
What’s next? Stay tuned. My Amazing Parents continue to amaze me.
When it comes to the state of the world, be it locally, nationally or globally, everyone I know–and probably most I don’t–has felt like this a good deal of the past five and a half years:
Most folks I know–and even more I don’t–have also found sources of inspiration to get themselves up off the floor and stay positive, or at least productive. Staying within my immediate circle of control is my go-to: cooking a meal for someone; spending time with an elder or a child; sometimes just contributing money.
But for me, real hope takes larger-scale action, and I would like to share my personal “hope-workout” of the last few years: Common Power.
Originally named Common Purpose and founded by UW Communications professor David Domke, “CP”s goal is “to foster, support and amplify a democracy that is just and inclusive.”
Even better, in my book, is the way CP goes about their work. I was first introduced to their three-part mindset when I attended a standing-room-only (obviously pre-pandemic) meeting in Seattle back in…2018, I think. This image speaks for itself:
Since joining, most of my “work” has been calling elected officials or phone-banking in “red” or “purple” states, which, no, I do not love. (Who does?) But most of that calling hasn’t been about trying to convince people to vote a certain way. It’s simply been working with in-state, non-partisan organizations (like NC’s You Can Vote) to give folks information they need to register, or to get their ballot accepted, or find their polling place. Do we target traditionally sidelined or disadvantaged voters? Of course. That’s the point. And as a result, those folks we do reach are, often as not, more grateful than grouchy.
Besides providing me with an escape ladder from the Pits of Helplessness, CP has also become a source of inspiration, learning, and even joy.
Close to home, when I can, I attend AJ Musewe’s Lunch and Learn series midweek, where the delightful AJ explores themes like the history of redlining, or little-known democracy pioneers. (When I can’t attend live, I listen to them recorded.)
The monthly meetings (fully accessible now–no more trips to Seattle!) begin with music and good news, and always leave me pumped up about the next event, like…the inauguration of the newly-expanded Institute for Common Power, coming up June 4! That one’s in-person, so I don’t know if I can go, but maybe you can go, and personally mingle with some civil rights heroes, compatriots of the late Rep. John Lewis, who survived the campaigns of the 1960s.
CP enthusiasts are also encouraged to join state “Teams” to focus their energy on one of seven states where democracy is both imperiled but also salvageable. Of course I chose Team North Carolina. And while I’ve limited my participation to online and phone work so far, I intend to travel next fall with Team NC to my home state to do the most effective GOTV work of all: knocking on doors, connecting with people. I CAN’T WAIT.
Best of all, for my teacherly soul, CP’s emphasis on next-generation leadership means that my NC fieldwork will be directed by leaders younger than my own kids. They’ve all been through CP’s Action Academy–a completely rad organization in itself; maybe you’d like to contribute, or recommend a youth to attend?–and I also CANNOT WAIT TO WORK WITH THEM.
Can you hear that hope-muscle working? Does your own hope need a workout? I invite you to check out Common Power.
There is a word…but not in English. Here’s one to add to your list, along with Schadenfreude and Cafuné (Portuguese for running your hands through the hair of someone you love, according to 41 Fascinating Words From Other Languages We Should Definitely Import to English) :
Dayenu. Or, as it says on our refrigerator magnet,
Jews and other folk who participate in Passover will recognize this word from the Seder ceremony. In Hebrew it means, roughly, “It would have been enough…” with the added connotation of, “…and yet, God did even more! Wow!”
Passover may be behind us for this year, but the season of Dayenu is just getting going, at least here on Lopez Island. Our normally gorgeous woods and fields have somehow become even gorgeouser (hey, I just invented Word #42 for the list) with wildflowers.
Like our woodlands even needed decorating–let alone by hot-pink orchids that look like something invented made by fairies…
…or golden-blooming succulents whose leaves want to get in on the color wheel action themselves:
And those are “just” the wildflowers. Then there are the lilacs planted all over our island, some 100 years old. Don’t get me started on lilacs. Or better yet, do–then read about them in this blog post I wrote some years ago on that heavenly-scented topic.
Extra color, extra scent, in a place which makes daily work of overloading our senses, year ’round? What else is there to say? At a loss for ways to express the feeling, I wrote this song–again, “some years ago.”
Had the rising sun not overwhelmed me…Dayenu.
Had my humble daily bread not filled me…Dayenu.
Had your arms not simply held me…Dayenu.
Had the lilacs never breathed so sweetly…Dayenu.
Had the wild fawn not leapt so neatly…Dayenu.
Had you not loved me so completely…Dayenu.
It would have been enough,
It would have blessed us to the core.
Had this morning been our only gift,
We would not have needed more.
Had the sunset not shanghaied my breathing…Dayenu.
Had the starlight not adorned the evening…Dayenu.
Had you not promised never leaving…Dayenu.
So my “Dayenu” these days–apart from my Mate–is spring flowers, wildand tame. What are yours? What’s better than sharing a cup that’s runnething over?