Writer

Category: Daily Life (Page 1 of 2)

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

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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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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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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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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