Laura Rink

Writer

Author: Laura Rink

REMEMBER YOUR TRAINING

When, not if, you get tossed out of your boat in a rapid on a river, don’t panic. Hang onto the boat if you can, and with or without the boat, assume the floating lounge chair position: feet up, knees bent, and head back. Ride out the rapid and then, in calmer water, make your way over to the river’s edge.

I know this advice—my extended family has been rafting the Rogue River in inflatable kayaks for almost forty years. I email this advice as a safety reminder every two years in July right before the family gathers at Indian Mary Campground in Southern Oregon for seven days of game-playing, socializing, and floating down the river. I don’t know whether anyone reads my email but my be-prepared mentality compels me to send it.

We, for the most part, are experienced river runners but as our family grows, with new partners and children reaching rafting age, the safety tips bear repeating. Moving water is powerful, and  we’ve had our share of mishaps: broken paddles, kayaks pinned in shallow bends, people tossed into the rapids. Trouble happens fast on the river and you need to be prepared to save yourself.

So I send out the email. I talk to people in camp. I yell out last minute reminders at the boat ramp. Other family members do the same—we do our best to look out for one another.

I haven’t been tossed out of my kayak in years. Experience, determination, and a big dose of luck have kept me in my seat.

This year the river level is on the low side of normal, the rapids cresting high, the dips sinking deep. On our all-day raft trip, the second short rapid gives us some excitement—multiple kayaks flip, with people and unsecured gear drifting down the river. The people already through the rapid help guide unmanned boats and boat-less people to shore. Everyone is unharmed. Later, we stop for lunch at an old mine, the rust-colored tailings marking the spot. Further down the river, we hang in the canyon and watch a few people jump off the rocks. Then we tackle the final rapid, a long class-three punctuated with exposed boulders.

I’m with the handful of kayaks at the end of our group. The rapids are high and continuous. I follow my cousin in the kayak in front of me, notice which way her kayak is shifting in the swells. My kayak noses up high, swings left, and I straighten it out. The kayak plunges down and then back up, left again, and this time my paddle stroke doesn’t connect with the river, and then quickly yet slow-seeming—I watch my body slip out of the kayak into the rapid. I’m in the river, the paddle and the kayak tucked under my right arm, my left arm flailing, my feet up. I’m a little shocked—I’m in the middle of this class-three rapid strewn with boulders.

My body is doing what it has been taught: I am indeed in the classic floating lounge chair position. My right arm swings the kayak in front of me and my left arm grabs on. The rapids slosh all around me. My body is keeping me safe, but my mind, never to be left out, asks “What should we do?” And with that wondering a jolt of panic sluices through my body: what am I supposed to be doing? And then another prize thought: I bet I could get back in my kayak. As soon as that thought registers, I press my upper body forward, glimpse the boulder I’m heading for, and my feet come down. If your feet get trapped by rocks, the current will push you under.

The moment my feet graze the rocks underneath the roiling water, my body takes over again, my feet jerking back to the surface, back to the floating lounge chair position. My arms squeeze the kayak into my chest, my nose points at the sky, my knees bend, and my feet prepare to bounce off the boulder I’m hurtling toward. All panic flees. I am calm because this is what I am supposed to do, this is how you get through a rapid without your feet getting stuck, without hitting your head on a rock.

I never touch that boulder. The river jostles me and my kayak around it, and spits us out downstream. I look over my shoulder at the retreating boulder—I can’t believe I didn’t hit it. The current tugs me onward, and I ease my way over to the side, to my cousin, eddied out and watching.

Back at camp, I keep reliving that moment of indecision in the rapid and the panic that abruptly flooded my mind and confused my body. I give one group of family after another a play-by-play of what happened, my mind trying to override my body, my mind trying to get me in trouble. My brother-in-law intones a piece of advice.

Two years from now, I will again send the rafting safety email, reading it not only for clarity and typos, but to embed the information deeper into my brain. I will keep telling my family what they believe they already know, and encourage short river runs of increasing challenge so incremental skills become muscle memory: You hear the rapids and make sure your life jacket is secure. You read the river picking a line that suits your abilities in this moment, and if you fall out, kayak or no kayak, recline and watch the sky. If your mind tries to lead you astray, use my brother-in-law’s suggestion and tell yourself: Remember your training.

Ten second video of me, staying in my boat. Zoom in for better viewing.

Chuckanut Writers Conference

From the opening address by Sonora Jah—The Writer in Uncertain Times—to the closing address by Omar El Akkad—Lies of Our Own Making: The Obligations of Literature in a Politically Fractured Age—my hometown writing conference contained immense ideas, blood-pumping inspiration, and a plethora of practical advice. The impressive faculty shared their stories, their hard-earned knowledge, and their passion for writing.

Village Books and Whatcom Community College have made the Chuckanut Writers Conference happen for nine years. For various reasons, I was unable to attend until this year. Logistically, this was an easy choice for me: the venue is eight miles away so I didn’t need to procure lodging—though Bellingham has ample choices for out-of-towners. I got to hang out with my local writing tribe and compare notes on sessions. Village Books set up a mini-store with the faculty’s books—an easy temptation I gave into both days and now have four new books on my nightstand.

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SHOTPOUCH

A wash of pink spreads across the lavender sky. The apple orchard grays into view. Soon Shotpouch Creek will surface, rippled in white. But first something new: bits of darkness darting through the air. It’s too early for the robins that will dot the meadow feeling out worms or the kinglets that will flitter in the willows along the creek. The winged darkness flies at the floor-to-ceiling windows and disappears soundlessly. Bats. A dozen visible and then poof—gone. One flies toward me and then melts away. Another scrabbles against the glass for half a second before slipping under the flashing over the sliding glass door. They pour through the dim morning light and secure themselves for sleep.

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WRITING RETREAT

Check out my guest blog at BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog:

Real Life vs. the Failed Writing Retreat

 

I WRITE MEMOIR, PART I

In the third grade, I read The Little House in the Big Woods series of books. You could write about your own life—what a revelation! I wanted to do that. But also, a disappointment—my life wasn’t as interesting as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s. Mine was a normal life. Two parents and two sisters, a house on a cul-de-sac, school a half-mile walk away.

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OUT OF MY BUBBLE

In my Red Wheelbarrow Writers guest blog, Resist: Ignorance, I discussed reading books to help deepen my understanding of and empathy for other people. Still working on that list, still glad I’m doing so. But reading a book is not the same as speaking with a person. Along came The Bellingham Herald’s “Outside the Bubble Dinner” sponsored by Whatcom Community Foundation’s Project Neighborly. The idea was to get matched up with a person outside your bubble and share a meal and some conversation. In order to apply for one of the five dinners, I first had to take a Bubble Test (You can too!) so organizers would know where my bubble fell on the spectrum. Then I filled out a short questionnaire.

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RESIST: IGNORANCE

Check out my guest blog:

http://www.redwheelbarrowwriters.com/blog/resist-ignorance/

HUMMINGBIRD WINTER

Upon returning home, from a road trip, in the middle of November, I saw a hummingbird dart out of the large rhody in the backyard to the nearby feeder, a little sugar-water still in it, hover and drink, and then dart back into the rhody. A hummingbird in November—a novelty to me. This one had bright red over its head and neck, a male Anna’s hummingbird. I immediately boiled water and poured a cup over a quarter cup of sugar, stirred until the sugar dissolved and then let it cool.

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SPEEDY

The vet assures me our cat’s ill health is not my fault. Speedy, our thirteen-year-old tiger tabby, has lost over three pounds, has a urinary tract infection, bleeding gums, and failing kidneys. Cats are stoic, the vet continues, by the time you realize they are ill, they are at death’s door. Speedy is dying, and I’m pretty sure it is my fault.

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WHAT ARE YOU DOING TODAY?

The worst part of my day, on the days I run errands, is in the morning when I’m standing in the grocery store watching the clerk ring up my purchases and she asks, “What are you going to do today?” A part of me finds that question an invasion of my privacy, while at the same time I realize she is making small talk. Another part of me is curious—what am I going to do today? My mind scrambles about for my own benefit as well as a polite answer.

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Writing For Personal Insight

Check out my first guest blog:

Writing for Personal Insight

THE WRITER AS ATHLETE

I exercise every day. Every day some form of stretching and strengthening, and a hike or a walk must be done. Why such dedication? Because I’m in training, not for a marathon but for a sit-a-thon. And as we are all learning these days, sitting is not for wimps.

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CELL PHONES AND THEIR ILK

For over ten years, I had a Nokia cell phone, a standard one piece, no flip, no slide, no touchscreen—a basic cell phone. I used it to make calls, and to receive calls. This phone fulfilled its purpose. When my children entered high school, I was pleased that my basic phone could also send and receive texts, as this is the preferred mode of parental communication.

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A CHRISTMAS PAST

What sticks in a child’s mind and survives into adulthood? What joy? What fear? What anger?

Forty-five years ago, my mom’s extended family rented a large cabin in Big Bear for Christmas. There must have been at least twenty of us, pretty chaotic. It was the first Christmas in seventeen years that it didn’t snow there, a fact that has nothing to do with this story, but it is noteworthy, it is mentioned every time this story is told, it is part of the family folklore—the year it didn’t snow.

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I WRITE! PART 1

Every time I start to write a new piece­—a story, a novel, a blog post—I get a sinking feeling in my gut, my chest constricts and a sigh slips through my lips. The glorious piece of writing floating in my mind sprawls on the page like a pig wallowing in the mud. A big smelly mess. What is worse than not writing? Writing poorly. If you don’t write, no one will know that you stink. Well, that your writing stinks. (It’s good to separate your self-worth from your work, though most writers will say that’s near impossible.)

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I HAVE A BLOG!

People blog for many reasons: to inform, amuse, advise, pontificate (what a great word—sounds like what it means), but in general, people blog to share their life experiences. And that is what I intend to do here—share my writer’s journey, and, on occasion, the journey of my daily life, because writers, like all people, must live life daily and sometimes it will feel good to rant about that.

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I HAVE A WEBSITE!

Authors are expected to have an online presence—when an editor or an agent types your name into a search engine, stuff has to come up. Not only do authors need a website, but they need a twitter account and a Facebook page. They need to be Linked-In and have a Pinterest. They must Blog and post photos on Instagram. And then there’s Google+, Tumblr and whatever else has sprouted up since I started writing this post. To sum it up in one word, an author is expected to have a platform.

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