September brought two local end-of-summer camping trips and while my writing work continued albeit at a much slower pace and there was much to wonder, this blog is all about what was outside the windows of the trailer, plus a welcome-home view.
Kayak Point: A new campground for us in a forest on a bluff overlooking the Salish Sea. Just down the road from the campground is a disc golf resort and we had two days of throwing fun. I highly recommend the putting course for all levels of disc golfers. Besides being free, the par-two course has water features which add ambience and an occasional disc bath. Back at camp, we hiked a short steep trail down to the beach, where the salmon were jumping, continuously. I laughed at the joyous sight of the frolicking fish, while a local fisherman lamented that he’d have better luck shoving an empty boat out amid all that jumping than he was having fishing from shore. I attributed the salmon jumping to all their energy surging them toward their spawning grounds, perhaps in the nearby Stillaguamish River. A quick internet search added two additional reasons. According to Tlingit culture, the jumping is to better see their surroundings, a geographical orientation. The jumping may also be to dislodge sea lice. Great, now I know that such a creature as sea lice exists.
Fort Casey: Our annual camping trip to celebrate my father’s birthday. The campground is on Admiralty Bay next to the Port Townsend ferry and a short walk to the fort. Best bets: walking along the beach to spot the huge sea lions out in the water, walking along the bluffs with views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, exploring the bunkers and Admiralty Head Lighthouse, and kite flying. One year the TV show Z Nation was filming at the fort and we were able to watch them shoot several scenes. This year included fishing for salmon, with lots of fishing and a little catching—two salmon for the birthday boy!
Port Townsend Ferry
What are your favorite camping, hiking, and get outside spots? Let me know in the comments below.
Home: In May, I planted twelve or so baskets and pots with two flats of impatiens, white and salmon, an annual tradition, easy and affordable. Over four months later, with almost no attention besides watering, these flowers continue to bring cheery joy to increasingly dark and grey days. New this year—two salvia plants which also bloomed continuously with no deadheading and attracted the hummingbirds like no other flower or feeder. I’m curious to see how much longer all these plants will hold their blooms.
Do you have favorite annuals you plant each year? Preferred perennials you nurture? Drop their names in the comments below.
Work: Have you heard the term micro prose? I recently took a class from Darien Hsu Gee, a fellow Rainier Writing Workshop alum, in which she illuminated the benefits of writing micro prose: pieces of 300 words or less. She is passionate about this form, and offered much practical advice and inspiration. The writing process she outlined included writing a first draft in ten minutes and then revising in two ten-minute sessions. The short timeframes makes this a flexible and doable practice. For me, this form will be a way to get difficult material down on the page in short bursts. For more information on micro prose, and free prompts, visit Darien’s website Writer-ish.com.
Tech update: On my website, the “subscribe to blog via email” is now available on mobile devices. After the blog post, scroll past the comment section, and at the very bottom is a place to put in your email and subscribe to my blog. Please let me know if that is not the case. I’m pleased that I figured this out on my own, though not thrilled at the number of hours I spent on it when I just needed to add a widget, which was obvious in hindsight and took mere minutes.
Wonder: I continue to ponder form and structure. I listened to two audio books this month—Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H and You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith. I highly recommend both just for the pleasure of reading/hearing them, and also as examples of different ways to structure a book. In Hijab Butch Blues, Lamya H weaves, and interrogates, stories from the Quran with her own experiences, and moves nonlinearly from her childhood through adulthood and back again. In You Could Make This Place Beautiful, Maggie Smith writes in vignettes, many of them the length of micro prose. The pieces feel complete in themselves and contribute to the larger story.
Windows: Many of us can look out our windows and see the effects of climate change, the no longer slow havoc the gradual warming of the earth and its oceans are causing. Smoke from fires in Canada and eastern Washington have lingered in Bellingham a few times this summer, and most notably from the now not-so-unusual early fires in Canada in May. And now a fire closer to home on the east side of Lake Whatcom. When we moved here in 1998 from fire-prone southern California, we were happy to be informed that western Washington doesn’t have forest fires. Well, change comes for us all.
Work: Traveling along the Oregon coast for two weeks this month took me out of my usual writing and exercise routines. (For more on the latter, check out this blog post.) Most mornings, I had to choose whether to write or exercise. Road trips require more sitting, so I often picked moving my body over writing. Once at my family reunion, being with my extended family was the priority. Little progress was made on my book during these two weeks and that was okay.
How do you balance the immobility of writing and moving your body? Do you try to write on vacation? Do you purposefully take writing breaks?
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Welcome to my blog. First time here? Check out May’s blog for info on my intentions for this space.
Work: Last October while reading Judith Kitchen’s The Circus Train, a novella-length essay in fragments about, to name a few, mortality, Samuel Beckett, and memory, I came across this line: “I like the phrase ‘time on your hands’ when you can actively hold it and feel its weight.” In that moment I was transported back thirty years to an experience that altered my perception of time. I grabbed a pen and a notebook, and wrote the first draft of “Twenty Seconds,” an essay out in the current issue of Two Hawks Quarterly.
What does the phrase “time on your hands” make you think about?
Welcome to my blog. First time here? Check out last month’s blog for info on my intentions for this space.
Work: I’ve started on the next draft of my book, my untitled Armenian family memoir. The last draft I refused to begin with page one—I was sick of page one. I was sick of the beginning that might not even be the beginning, in the end. I picked a pivotal section on page 43 and sailed forth from there. Last week I landed on page 191 with new insights for global revisions, my main goal for that draft. I’ve returned to the beginning, and those new insights are helping me see what belongs here and what decidedly does not, and the fate of the rest of the beginning is uncertain at this point. As a person, I prefer the familiar, the known, the certain. As a writer, I’ve found the only way forward, for me, is to make peace with losing sight of the shore and trust that new lands will appear, eventually, on the horizon.
A helpful resource to take along on the drafting journey: Seven Drafts by Allison K Williams.
How do you tackle your drafts? Always from the beginning? Or do you jump around?
One of my motivations to write is connecting with others, and that connection can’t begin until the work goes out into the world. As I am currently writing a book, it’s a long slog before that engagement can begin. So I’ve decided to reboot, revive, and recommit to my blog.
This blog will be loosely organized in three categories: Work, Wonder, and Windows. What I am up to with my writing; wonderings inspired by books, podcasts, articles, essays, anything really; and what I’m seeing out my window on my borrowed piece of the planet between the Salish Sea and the Cascade Mountains.
Work: I’m expanding my MFA creative nonfiction thesis into a book-length work about my relationships with my Armenian grandmother and her two sisters, and the silence surrounding their life in Turkey and how they survived the Armenian Genocide. I’ve published two essays related to this work: “Geraniums” at Complete Sentence and “Tante Silvia’s Flinch Cards” at The Keepthings.
Today is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. In honor of my ancestors, I’m grateful to have this short piece up at Complete Sentence.
Haigazn Family circa 1914. Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey.
Look with your eyes, not your hands
My mother said in gift shops, antique stores, the five and dime
Now, in my mask and gloves, I peer at
Avocados and apples, grapefruit and lemons
Using my eyes to discern
Firmness, ripeness, compatibility
Wondering if the underside of the apple holds a bruise,
If the grapefruit will be more rind than flesh
Touching is a commitment—
You are now mine, for better or for worse
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.
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.
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.
Check out my guest blog at BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog:
Real Life vs. the Failed Writing Retreat
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Check out my first guest blog:
Writing for Personal Insight
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.