Laura Rink

Writer

MAY, A MONTH OF FLOWERS

April’s bounty, and showers, continue with this month’s collection of blossoms: pink columbine, purple rhododendron, red salvia, sweet woodruff, and the sweet perfume of lilacs and lilies of the valley . . . to name a few.

This month also marks a year since I began blogging again. Writing can be a lonely occupation, so thank you for following along with my writing journey, responding to my assorted wonderings, and gazing out my windows with me at the beauty that resides there. Your comments, suggestions, and questions have made me feel in community with each one of you. I look forward to continuing these conversations. (If you don’t already, please consider subscribing to my blog. Thanks!)

In addition, it’s been a year of tending to my health, including physical therapy and mental health therapy, and discovering I have a heart condition, atrial fibrillation, commonly referred to as AFib. Remember how tired I was in December? Part of being tired was three months of heart problems that I kept attributing to other things: anxiety, panic attacks, sleep deprivation, and dehydration. I have a cardiologist now, and medication, and some ongoing issues we’re still figuring out.

How am I feeling about my AFib? Disappointed. Frustrated. A little incredulous. I have a fairly sanguine attitude about aging. Gray hair—no problem. Some wrinkles—of course. A few aches and pains, and a bit less energy—better than the alternative. But heart problems? At fifty-nine? I was entirely unprepared for this. So, incredulous, frustrated, disappointed.

And in the grand writerly tradition that everything is material, two days after my diagnosis I wrote a micro essay about my AFib. I read that essay to close writer friends as a way to share my news while also sharing a piece of work. A piece of work I received feedback on, revised, and submitted to literary journals. Because that’s what writers do—keep writing.

Work: This blog has been a monthly part of my writerly work and as each one takes up two to four days of writing time and energy, I’m in awe of those writers who blog weekly while keeping up with their ongoing writing projects. For me, having the three sections helps focus and narrow the choices of what to write. Some months I have too much to say and jot notes for future blogs. It is rewarding to open a document for say, May, and find some ideas already there, even if they get pushed to another month or don’t get used at all. I’ve also given myself the deadline of posting on the last Wednesday of every month, which also helps keep me on track.

I’m fortunate to have a writer friend who gives me feedback on my blogs and her advice has been invaluable in helping me improve each one. Her questions push me to go deeper, to consider cohesion and threads, and to not take the easy way out. For example, the first draft of this blog didn’t have the last two paragraphs in the section above about my AFib. After the paragraph ending in “still figuring out,” I had “I’m mostly okay.” See the difference there? The facts of the matter and a quick I’m fine, let’s not talk about this anymore. Instead of the more satisfying, I hope, facts of the matter and how I feel about it, and what I did with those feelings.

 Wonder: Wondering where I’m at with my Armenian family manuscript? I’m wondering what counts as a draft of a book-length work. Writing and revising straight through from page one to The End? What about revising and re-ordering before reaching the end? Depending on the definition, I am on draft two or draft one-hundred-fifty-seven. That is because I compulsively Save As, creating a new draft of whatever piece I’m working on before I make any but the smallest of changes. What am I afraid of? Losing hard sought for words, labored over sentence constructions, threaded together paragraphs? I have rarely gone back to an earlier draft, and yet I can’t stop myself from creating an archive of drafts.

How do you track your drafts? Are you concerned about “losing” earlier versions?

Windows: The blooms of May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APRIL, A MONTH WITH TWO ANNIVERSARIES

April showers bring May flowers, so the saying goes. In other words, endure April for the reward of May. Yet April offers its own bounty: cherry blossoms, swaths of tulips, and the unfurling of maple leaves, to name a few. April also brings those showers, tree pollen, and temperatures often more like winter than spring. April is an energetic month.

Work: I’m drawn to quotes that reframe the challenges of writing and alter my mindset in an expansive and helpful way. For example, here is a recent newsletter quote from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits:

“If you feel resistance before you begin, it’s usually procrastination and you need to get started.

If you feel resistance after you begin, it’s usually feedback and you need to make adjustments.”

These days I do sit down and get started, because I’m eager to write this book about my Armenian family, to watch the shape emerge, morph, fall flat, and rise again. But it’s taken me a while to implement the second part of the quote. I’ll stare at paragraphs that aren’t working, as if time alone will somehow solve the problem. I’ll make line level edits as if tiny alterations can fix larger issues. (Sometimes they can.) But now I’ve realized a larger adjustment is often what is needed.

Sometimes that adjustment is relocation: the scene or section belongs somewhere else in the book. I move it out of the way and the narrative flows again. Sometimes that adjustment is reordering within a section—printing out and cutting that section into paragraphs can help with the reordering. Sometimes that adjustment is a scene compressed into summary or a summary expanded into a scene. Sometimes that adjustment is acknowledging that this particular material doesn’t belong in the book at all.

If you want to understand, and gain strategies to overcome, the role of resistance in your life, I recommend Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, a book from which I could pull dozens of expansive and helpful quotes. A book that belongs in every creative person’s library. And we are all creative people.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you or reframes an idea or experience?

Wonder: April 24th is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and also my parents’ wedding anniversary. I wonder at their concurrency.

On April 24, 1915, Ottoman authorities arrested 250 Armenian intellectuals and thus began the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, a genocide that also took the lives of Assyrians, Greeks, and Jews. It wasn’t until 1988 that Armenia, then a republic of the Soviet Union, designated April 24 as a public day of commemoration. The California State Assembly, in 1997, declared April 24 as a Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.

On April 24, 1964, my parents married, picking that date because it fell on a Friday. They married in Las Vegas surrounded by family and friends, and returned to work on Monday.

Really there’s not much here to wonder about. These two anniversaries share a day because coincidences happen. I hadn’t made the connection until recently because the Armenian Genocide wasn’t talked about in my family. We didn’t commemorate the tragic event that my paternal grandmother and her two sisters survived.

This April, my sisters and I, and our families, gathered at my parents’ home to celebrate their 60thwedding anniversary, to celebrate love and family. My parents are together, still here, and Armenians are still here, despite the genocide set in motion on April 24th.

 

Windows: Two trees in bloom: cherry and dogwood.

March, A Month To Spring Forward, Still

The harbingers of spring continue this month, with azaleas, daffodils, and forsythia in full bloom, and maples, alders, and dogwood trees beginning to bud out. We have a mallard couple visiting our pond and a blush of robins spreads over the front field bobbing for worms.

Work: This month I’m poring over a ship manifest & port of arrival form, carbon copies of one great-aunt’s letters from the 1930s, and research on Battle Creek College, Michigan and the Montefiori Hospital in the Bronx, NYC. All that to help me reconstruct the story of how another great-aunt, Silvia (Sirvart) Haigazn, came to America in 1928, after surviving the Armenian Genocide, and subsequently established a new life for herself here. My struggles with this particular section are threefold.

First, balancing the research and the writing. There is the delight in finding out new information about Silvia and facts about where she went to school and worked. Most of this information, while personally gratifying, will never be used in the book, and I have to limit the research time in order to keep writing. Secondly, making choices about story, structure, and voice. I need to take my Tante Silvia’s situation and shape that material into a story that will be compelling to a disinterested reader. But which story, highlighted by which elements of her life? In what form? In what kind of voice? Each of these components of craft influence the others and I’m looking for the best match. And thirdly, how much of this book is biography versus memoir? In other words, how much is the narrator also developed as a character in this section? Do I interject related memories and events from the future? Or stay firmly in the late 1920s and early 1930s? I don’t know yet.

All of which is to say I need to not get bogged down in these challenges but keep writing so the story, structure, and voice can reveal themselves more fully which in turn will make clear what research is required and how much of myself needs to be present.

What challenges have you been facing in your creative work? To me, creative work includes, among many others, such activities as gardening, cooking, quilting, etc. Do you have strategies for dealing with those challenges?

Me and Tante Silvia, circa mid-1970s

Wonder: Most people want to stop falling back and springing forward, temporally speaking. So why, you may wonder, did we yet again this month move the clocks forward? In 2019, the Washington State legislature passed a bill to remain year round on Daylight Savings Time. But to do so requires the approval of the federal government, which hasn’t taken action. The last two years a bipartisan group of  Washington State senators put forth a bill to have the state remain on Standard Time, which doesn’t require the approval of the federal government. I’m team Standard Time and was disappointed to learn that the bill never made it out of committee. For more on my year-round time preference, check out my March 9th Facebook post.

How do you feel about the time changes—love, hate, or indifferent? Which time do you prefer to remain on, or do you enjoy the shifting of the clocks?

Windows: These hellebores are a philosophical bunch of navel gazers with beautiful faces not easily seen.

FEBRUARY, A MONTH OF HARBINGERS

If last month winter was on my mind (winter projects, wintering, snow), the month of February has me noticing the harbingers of spring (daffodil buds, the morning bird chorus, the emergence of Pacific banana slugs), even if the temperatures are still on the chilly side.

Work: I spent ten days with my husband in Mexico earlier this month and made the decision to not bring my computer, or work on my manuscript, even though the writing and revising were going well, even though a part of me would have been happy to stay home and keep working. I wanted to be more present on this trip, and avoid being distracted by “I could be writing!” Of course I brought a notebook and jotted journal-type entries: what we did—snorkeling and kayaking, the creatures we saw—pufferfish and pelicans, the few Spanish words I was learning—cielo azul and lo siento.

I did read a book, Priscilla Long’s Dancing with the Muse in Old Age and pondered, in my notebook, the questions at the end of each chapter. I turned 59 this month and it was helpful to read of creatives in their 70s, 80s, and 90s still doing their art, however that art had, or hadn’t, changed in the winter of their lives.

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JANUARY, A MONTH TOO SHORT AND TOO LONG

January bears the burden of high expectations: A New Year! Resolutions! Winter projects! If last month I was tired, this month, the winter holidays behind me now, I felt ready to be productive—I will get so much done this month! And yet this month has flown by—is it really the 24th already?—and I have not gotten so much done. The too-long part of January isn’t an abundance of time for projects, but the endless dark and cold days. In Bellingham, we experienced negative temperatures for the first time in the twenty-six years we have lived here. I’m not a fan. Though comparatively it was interesting to experience twenty-three degrees as a comfortable temperature.

Work: In 2022, I set a goal to have my Armenian family manuscript completed and of publishable quality by my sixtieth birthday in February 2025. That goal felt reasonable and doable then. I set many intermediate goals. I moved those goalposts a few times. I have made progress but not as much as I’d hoped. Hence the high expectations for this January. And now I’m here, with only thirteen months left until I turn sixty. I’m not moving the goalposts this time, but I have altered the goal: a complete draft of decent quality, probably not ready for publication but ready for an editor, a fresh set of discerning eyes. To that end, I hope January, and February, continue to provide the perfect weather—dark, damp, and cold—to stay inside and write.

Do you set short- and long-term goals for your various projects? Any tips for helping to meet those goals? How do you feel about moving the goalposts or altering the goal itself?

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WORK, AND WALKING AWAY

I restarted my blog in May and with December’s blog, I’ve met my goal of blogging at least once a month. I almost didn’t reach that goal. I’m tired and considered not blogging this month. I’m tired and considered just posting a picture captioned with Happy Holidays! But that didn’t feel right, or good.

I’m tired. And I wanted to write a blog this month.

I’m tired because of the low light this time of year, because I don’t get outside and exercise enough, because I don’t often sleep well. I’m tired because the state of our planet and our humanity is exhausting.

I wanted to write a blog this month, and I wasn’t sure what to say.

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WORK ALWAYS

September’s blog was all windows, October’s wonder, so it follows that this month’s will be about the work, the ongoing writer’s work. The fulfilling and frustrating act of creating art. Though, as I seek more equanimity in all aspects of my life, my mindset regarding this work has been evolving. Less high-highs and low-lows, more acceptance of process, as in the work won’t always go smoothly and that’s okay.

Where I am in the drafting process of my Armenian family book: The manuscript is currently about 50,000 words, 177 pages. My goal is around 80,000 words. Much of the manuscript isn’t fleshed out or fully developed. I have several other Word docs, totaling around 20,000 words, with material waiting to be incorporated into the manuscript. I’m trying to establish, again and again as the story evolves, a solid spine around which to build the body of the book. I have to know what kind of story I’m constructing in order to know what belongs in this book, and as that story keeps shifting, so does what remains, what must be added, and what is deleted. I’ve probably written 80,000 words a few times over in my search for this story, which is, at least for me, a necessary part of the process in creating this book.

How would you describe where you are with your current creative project?

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Wonder, All The Time

Wonder When We’ll Give Peace A Chance

 

Ukraine and Russia.

Israel and Palestine.

Armenia & Artsakh and Azerbaijan & Turkey.

 

Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, . . . United States.

 

How to replace hate with empathy?

How to halt bombs and advancing armies by other than the same?

How to transform greed into generosity, or at least moderation?

 

I wonder.

Windows, All The Way Around

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.

Forest View

Water View

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

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.

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

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

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

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?

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

June 2023

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?

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

May 2023

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.

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LOOK WITH YOUR EYES

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

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.

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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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