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Tlingit Words & Chilkat Weaving Origins

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Sat, 04/25/2015 - 4:12am

“Naaxein” is the Tlingit word for Chilkat weaving

During the Summer of 2013, a couple of my apprentices and I had volunteered to do Chilkat weaving demonstrations at the Sheldon Museum in Haines, Alaska.  While we were there, of course, they had a nice collection of Chilkat weavings from the area, and to our surprise some weaving terms in the Tlingit language!  So on behalf of the Sheldon Museum, I post some of the Chilkat weaving terms as well as the origin of Chilkat weaving according to an anthropologist from the turn of the century who wrote the book “The Chilkat Blanket, George Emmons.

In addition to the comment in the above photo made about Jennie Thlunaut’s signature, Jennie’s checkerboard “signature” was a pattern of yellow and blue.

 

Cost of a Chilkat robe back in the mid-1800’s was $30

Jennie had told me that she sold her first robe for $50.  If my memory serves me, it was the robe started by her mother who passed away when she was a young teenager.  She thought $50 was pretty good for a Chilkat robe; she had a confident smile on her face as she spoke.

“Kasek’xu” Tlingit word for dye

Jennie and Agnes Bellinger (Jennie’s daughter) told me the golden yellow was what weavers strived for and the best way to do this was all in the urine.   The best urine to make the golden yellow was urine from a woman in her last month of pregnancy; second best urine was from a newborn infant.  The way they collected the urine from a newborn was to place the “wolf moss” in the diaper and only collect #1 (as opposed to #2) and put the soaked wolf moss in the dye bath.  The older the baby, or child’s urine, the more pale the golden yellow.  Jennie and Agnes said there is no wolf moss in Southeast Alaska.  The moss was a trade item with the tribes on the other side of the coastal mountains in British Columbia, Canada.  The youth of the urine made the biggest difference in the color achieved and the set of the dye.

“Kakein” is Tlingit word for yarn

The mountain goat wool and cedar bark spin together as if they were mated for life; they are attracted to one another like bee to a flower!  Mountain goat hides are hard to come by; and even if they were easy to acquire, there are so many Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers on board, we would make the herds run away further up into the high barren mountains!  In the bio on Jennie Thlunaut here on my website under “Tributes,” there is a map showing the places where the men would hunt for mountain goat.  Today there are a couple of guys who hunt mountain goat.  We weavers need to do trades with these guys so we can let go of using the 2nd best wool that has replaced the mountain goat:  merino wool from New Zealand.  This wool is the closest fiber in the world next to the mountain goat.  It spins up okay, but not as fine as the bee and flower of cedar bark and mountain goat wool…!

Teey Woodi Tlingit for Cedar Bark

The Western yellow cedar is best o split because the strands are silky smooth (when wet), they pull out into longer strands than the cedar (which is more brittle), and when you spin the bark and wool (done on the thigh), your hands are not prone to the first layer of skin rubbing off!  Though if red cedar is all there is to collect, or someone gifted me some, then it is only sensible to not look the gift horse in the mouth.  You acquire what you can!  It is best to harvest the red cedar when the first sign of spring shows up with new green growth at the tips of the cedar tree boughs.

Chilkat weaving origins

There are several stories of the origin of where Chilkat weaving first began and how it came to and was retained in the Chilkat River Valley in Haines/Klukwan, Alaska.  The Nishga’a in the Nass River area claim the weaving originated in the Nass River and only the Nishga’a inhabitated the area, not the Tsimpshian.  The Tsimpshian from the Skeena River say Chilkat weaving originated there.  The weaving had died out because of western contact in both areas, but fortunately, as one of the stories go, a Chilkat chief married a weaver from the Nass River (or Skeena River?), and then another story says it was the other way around.  No matter what the story, all agree that there were specifically 4 sisters of a Raven Clan in Klukwan who unraveled the Chilkat apron to gain the knowledge of how the weaving was done.

Traditionally men designed the Chilkat robes because they were the artists of form line; women were the weavers…

Jennie said she finished a Chilkat robe in 6 months; she had pride on her face as she spoke.  I didn’t believe her at first, but after I learned her fingering of speed, accuracy and tension, and I applied her knowledge to my weavings of today, well……?

 

 

 

Categories: Arts & Culture

Round Up of News and Events

49 Writers - Fri, 04/24/2015 - 4:02am
Head down to Crosscurrents at the Anchorage Museum on Wednesday. Frank Soos, Eva Saulitis, Susanna Mishler, and David Stevenson will give us a glimpse behind the curtain to see the real person behind the author's persona on the page.

Enjoy the lengthening daylight. There's always time to write when you finally come in at night, or when you're awakened by the early dawn.

Happy writing!
Morgan

EVENTS IN ANCHORAGECrosscurrents: Alaska Writer Laureate Frank Soos and panelists Eva Saulitis, Susanna Mishler, and David Stevenson. A wide ranging discussion about how writers present themselves on the page in poetry and essay, as opposed to the people they may be in the rest of their lives. Wednesday, April 29, 7pm at the Anchorage Museum, 7th Street entrance.

May events from the UAA Bookstore. All UAA Campus Bookstore events are informal, free and open to the public.  There is free parking for bookstore events in the South Lot, the West Campus Central Lot (behind Rasmuson Hall), the Sports Lot and the Sports NW Lot.  For more information call  Rachel at 786-4782 or email repstein2@uaa.alaska.edu.

  • May 7, 4:30-6:00pm: Photographer Ben Huff presents his book The Last Road North
  • May 8, 4:00-6:00pm: Author Stuart Archer Cohen presents his book This Is How It Really Sounds
  • May 10, 4:00-6:00pm at UAA/APU Consortium Library room 307: Glenn Kurtz presents Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film.  


EVENTS AROUND ALASKAONLINE CLASSES
Lynn Lovegreen will lead an online workshop on writing YA/NA historical romance sponsored by Young Adults Chapter of Romance Writers of America (YARWA). Writing YA/NA Historical Romance. Online: May 4-22, 2015. $10 for YARWA members ($20 for non-members). Register here.

SOUTHCENTRAL, MAT-SU, KENAI PENINSULAThe 2015 Mat-Su Young Writers Conference, April 25, sponsored by Publication Consultants and the Mat-Su School District, is in need of author speakers to present on a number of writerly topics. To apply as an author speaker, contact Evan Swensen at evan@Publication Consultants.com.

Meet Linda Dunegan. Friday, May 1 at 4pm at Fireside Books in Palmer. If you've been reading the news this past year, you've probably seen allegations of corruption and abuse in the Alaska National Guard. Linda Dunegan's book The Price of Whistleblowing is her own story of working in that institution. It's an unflinching narrative about standing up in a hostile environment, and it's a stark commentary on the impact of corruption on national security -- and on individual lives.

An All-Day Independent Bookstore Day Party at Fireside Books in Palmer! May 2nd.  
They're celebrating with some some really special bookstore "swag" -- collectibles that will only be available at participating independents on May 2nd. They'll have broadsheet posters created by Stephen King just for the occasion, literary tea cloths and onesies, socks from Christopher Moore. They even have a stencil from Margaret Atwood. And a full day of events. Click on the links to find out more:

Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference, June 12-16. 2015’s keynote speaker is Andre Dubus III, and there are a host of amazing writers on the faculty this year (as there are every year). This year's post-conference workshop at Tutka Bay Lodge, Finding the Geography of Our Work, will be led by 2014 Kingsley Tufts Award winner Afaa Weaver, June 16-18,

SOUTHEASTLiterary Happy Hour: a new monthly event in Juneau. Sunday, April 26, 4:30-6pm, Coho's, 51 Egan Drive. Free - No Host Bar. Readings by Libby Bakalar (author of the Juneau-based blog One Hot Mess) and Geoff Kirsch (Juneau Empire columnist and humorist). These two writers (who happened to be married) are truly funny! Check out their work by clicking on their names. See you at Coho's!

Perseverance Theatre and the Juneau Public Library, and 49 Writers invite you to meet Madeline George, author of Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England. May 1, 12pm at the Juneau Public Library Downtown. Bring a bag lunch and chat with Madeline about the play, writing, and her life as a writer. Madeline is the author of two young adult novels as well as several plays. She is a resident playwright at New Dramatists. The event is free and open to the public. Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England opens May 1 at Perseverance Theatre and runs through May 24. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books and the JACC and by calling 463-TIXS. Visit ptalaska.org for information about pay-as-you-can and preview performances.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR WRITERSPUBLICATION Local writer Andrea Hackbarth is volunteering as a poetry reader for the lit journal noble gas quarterly. She reports that she's "been asked to forward our call for submissions to any and all writer folk. Because I'm reading for poetry, this particular call is poetry focused, but they publish fiction, non-fiction, art, and other things as well. Check out the journal and submission guidelines and send some work in." "noble gas quarterly's poetry section seeks poetry submissions of all styles and dispositions. we seek to create a safe space for experimentation with all the substance of a precious metal and the formal stability of a noble gas. please send 3-5 pieces via submittable with a brief bio and some word on your poetics. we look forward to hearing from you!"
CONTESTS & GRANTSPoets & Writers lists a ton of writing contests and grants on their searchable website. The May/June issue includes an analysis of contest trends for the last decade.
CONFERENCES, RETREATS & RESIDENCIESPoets & Writers Live comes to Chicago on June 20 with a day-long program on Editors & Agents. Join them at Instituto Cervantes as to explore the writer's journey from inspiration to publication. Panelists include agents Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management and Renée Zuckerbrot of the Renée Zuckerbrot Literary Agency; publicist Michael Taeckens; editors Victor Giron of Curbside Splendor, Adrienne Gunn of TriQuarterly, Jeff Pfaller of Midwestern Gothic, and Don Share of Poetry magazine; and many others. Space is very limited. Registration is now open and the Early Bird price is just $60 until May 15. (After May 15, registration is $120.)

Registration is open for the Tutka Bay Writers Retreat featuring two outstanding guest instructors, Ann Eriksson and Gary Geddes! September 11-13 at the fabulous Tutka Bay Lodge.

National Arts Strategies: Call for Creative Community Fellows. Application deadline for the second cohort: April 26. Around the world there are artists, activists, community organizers, administrators and entrepreneurs working as change-makers in their communities - using arts and culture as vehicles to drive physical and social transformations. During the nine-month fellowship, fellows are given tools, training and access to a community of support in order to fuel their visions for community change, spark new ideas and help propel them into action.

The Wrangell Mountains Center residency program aims to support artists of all genres, writers, and inquiring minds in the creation of their work. Their organization and community will provide unrestricted work time and space to focused individuals. They invite applicants with creative and inquisitive minds who will both add to and benefit from the interdisciplinary efforts at their campus in McCarthy, Alaska and the surrounding Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

North Words Writers Symposium, May 27-30, Skagway. Keynote speaker is Mary Roach, plus a bevvy of Alaska's best authors.

Kachemak Bay Writers' ConferenceHomer, AK, June 12-16, 2015: keynote speaker is Andre Dubus III, and there are a host of amazing writers on the faculty this year (as there are every year).

Last Frontier Theatre Conference, June 14-20, in Valdez, features new work by playwrights from around the country. There are evening performances, 10-minute play slams, even a fringe festival. The deadline is past for play submissions, but they may still need actors.

Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop presents RiverSong with Frank Soos, Michelle McAfee, Robin Child, and Nancy Cook, July 22-27, McCarthy to Chitina. The Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop is pleased to partner with McCarthy River Tours & Outfitters to host a six-day, five-night adventure in the fabulous Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This year’s workshop will feature poet and essayist, Frank Soos, who is currently serving as Alaska’s Writer Laureate, joined by accomplished singer-songwriter Michelle McAfee, backcountry banjo-diva Robin Child, and workshop director Nancy Cook. Together they will explore the ways wilderness can help inspire songs, stories, poems, and essays. Activities include an opening reading/performance and craft sessions in the comfort of the Wrangell Mountains Center’s facility in McCarthy, followed by three nights and four days of creative inquiry along the Kennicott, Nizina, Chitina, and Copper Rivers. Space is limited to eight student writers/ songwriters.

Alaska Writers Guild & SCBWI Annual Writer’s Conference, September 19-20, Anchorage. Early registration starts May 2015. www.AlaskaWritersGuild.com







Categories: Arts & Culture

Clarissa Rizal Announces Her New Website!

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 9:53am

Northwest Coast Tlingit graduation cap designed by Clarissa Rizal painted and modeled by Ursala Hudson at her BA graduation — 2014

I have a new website with a few new tweaks to my blog, just launched last week on April 13th; I HAVE GRADUATED to a simpler, cleaner, and easy-to-navigate format to update:  It’s time to celebrate!  (Most artists that I know would rather spend their time creating instead of working on the computer, so the easier and faster computer time, the better for us all…!)

This is my fourth website since 1998; the first was created by my friend Cecil Touchon (www.ceciltouchon.com) nearly 20 years ago when there were not very many Native American artists’ websites.

I have been blogging since July 2010, nearly 5 years!  Unlike the past blog entries randomly posted when I could fit in the work, I will post new blog entries 3/x weekly with this schedule:

  • on Mondays and Thursdays and Saturdays by 12 midnight (Alaska, Pacific or Mountain time — all depends on where my business travel takes me!).

Blog posts will include the usual latest projects, art business travel, tools of the trade, people, classes, health topics, etc., though to continue helping out my fellow weavers in a more efficient manner, I have added a new section to my categories (column on the right) called “Tricks-of-the-Trade.”

All photographs on my website and blog were shot by myself unless otherwise noted.

  • For over 20 years, most of the photographs of my button robes and my chilkat weavings were taken by professional photographer Jeff Laydon at www.pagosaphotography.com.
  • I make an effort to give credit to any other  photographers.
  • Thank you to my ceremonial robe models the late Russ Eagle and my grand-daughter Amelie Haas.
  • My friend Russ had been modeling for me for nearly 15 years until his passing in 2009.
  • Five-year-old Amelie had her debut this past March modelling my “Chilkat Child” 5-piece weaving ensemble.

I have begun formatting my photographs larger; people want to SEE!

  • I also will aim towards shooting more interesting shots, maybe at different angles
  • maybe I’ll even tweak them too, because I CAN!
  • Click photos on my website to enlarge; the blog photos are what they are
  • Ursala says I ought to buy myself a SLR camera to produce better photos, though at this time I cannot afford spending $500-$1000.
  • Blogs and websites are much more interesting with better photography and golly, shooting from my old iPhone I guess just doesn’t tickle anybody’s fancy does it!
  • Hold on, dear readers, the money for a real camera will come some day!

As time permits, I will be adding one more topic to my website:  a “Tributes” page to honor  mainly Tlingit elders who have helped me on my path as a full-time Tlingit artist for nearly 40 years.  My “Tributes” page will include those of have passed including:

  • grandparents, Juan and Mary Sarabia
  • parents William and Irene Lampe
  • very first mentor/teacher Tlingit chief from Yakutat, Harry K. Bremner, Sr. who gave me my very first sewing lessons along with Tlingit song and dance instruction, and
  • mentor/teacher of Chilkat weaving, Jennie Thlunaut
  • my apprenticeship with Jennie Thlunaut

Thank you to my daughter, Ursala Hudson for working hard last weekend to create and launch  my website by my deadline!  Check Ursala’s graphic design/web design work on her website at:  www.whiterabbitstudio.us

Categories: Arts & Culture

Rebecca Salsman: Watching Chaos Turn Into Beauty: Looking Through the Eyes of a Student Editor

49 Writers - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 5:00am
My experience as a student editor required 180 hours of work in 3 months and endless tasks I never thought I would perform. When I started the process I somehow thought it would be like proofing my college paper. I assumed I would be moving some commas and turning “to” into “too.” Turns out I was wrong. 

As the Senior Editor of Tidal Echoes, the University of Alaska Southeast’s Literary and Arts Journal, I have learned about every facet of writing. The journal accepts submissions from anyone living in Southeast Alaska and is made up of at least 25% student work. 
Two students and a faculty member edit the pieces to create a published journal. We received over 350 submissions this year, our highest number yet. That created a manuscript the size of a decent novel that had to be cut down to 120 pages including all of the front matter and biographies. It seemed daunting for 3 people and a small editorial board. 

Thankfully, I discovered through editing that writing is built from a community. Putting together the journal took so much more then our small group. When I first became an English major I was terrified by the thought of entering into a cutthroat profession. I envisioned something similar to the journalists in Spiderman always trying to outdo each other. But again, it turns out I was wrong. 

UAS staff and faculty sacrificed time and energy by reading anonymous copies of the journal and scoring them. There were several moments I was close to tears because I felt inadequate, but the writing staff from UAS never ceased to encourage me at the right moments. 

I could go on for a while about all the ways I have seen people help and share their love for writing. It wasn’t just people who loved writing that got involved in the journal. We had a gracious graphic designer that took the time to really care about details by turning pages of text into a completed book. Also, the company that printed our book, Alaska Litho, took this little old student into the printing room and explained the whole process in detail during an hour long tour. 

What have I taken away from my internship? Don’t be afraid to have company along the journey. Before becoming the Tidal Echoes editor I was a one-man show. No matter how big the task I was determined to finish it alone. I have learned that more brains brings more creativity. There are so many people out there who care about what I, and other writers, are creating. We need one another for stories, to build up our areas of our weakness, and to be involved in the community.

If I could urge writers, and others involved in the arts, to remember one thing it would be to create a neighborhood of like-minded people by being involved. All of the pieces in Tidal Echoes are beautiful. But as a whole, the journal has been taken from a few unrelated stories and moved into a collection of art that is unique to Southeast Alaska. Because people submitted, volunteers dedicated time, and the staff worked hard the journal became a community in itself, one voice with many unique tones and features.


Categories: Arts & Culture

Matthew Komatsu: Alaska and War Writing

49 Writers - Wed, 04/22/2015 - 5:00am
On the night of September 14th, 2012, a team of insurgents armed to the teeth and wearing US uniforms slipped through the wire of Bastion Air Base, Afghanistan. Once inside, they unleashed hell. Firing RPGs, they lit an uncovered jet fuel depot that contained millions of gallons of JP-8 ablaze, destroyed several Harrier jets and killed two Marines. I know this because I was there alongside three of my men. We answered a call for help and got a little more than we expected. In the days that followed, I had an idea to write my way through the experience. It took me over a year to get it down and published (link to the NYT essay is below) but I was hooked. It was time to quit screwing around. Time to write.

I came up with an idea for a short story about a veteran; a veteran I dropped into the Alaskan backcountry I have come to know and love. My wife’s final trimester frenzied the writing with the knowledge that time would soon grow scarce and I wrote with a sense of purpose I’d never found before. I am proud of what emerged, even if I wasn’t able to get it published. War was merely the beginning of the story, not the end. By the final drafts, Alaska emerged as a character as strong as my protagonist, and as deadly as war itself.

To return from war is to grapple with your place in the world. Hemingway knew this when he wrote “Big Two-Hearted River,” even if he was bit limited by the landscape of rural Michigan compared to what lies outside our doorsteps. And surely I’m not the only one to ask whether the story itself would have grown beyond the confines of In Our Time should Nick Adams have found respite on the Kenai, or in the wilds of the great Alaskan Interior. But Nick Adams isn’t the only veteran who turned to the natural world for whatever it might offer. Post-Vietnam, Ed Abbey placed George Hayduke in the Desert Southwest. Homer left Odysseus in the mythical wilds for a full decade. Which of you, I wonder, will write a veteran into Alaska?

Because here’s the thing: few other writers live with what we have outside our doorsteps. No matter where you live in Alaska, from Anchorage to New Stuhoyak, the natural world influences our lives in a way that is not well understood by our friends in the Lower 48. We are privileged with access and knowledge that begins not with a drive or a flight, but with mere steps. The natural world is a constant force within our lives, more so than anywhere else in the nation. It makes perfect sense we tend toward writing the natural world.  I would argue, then, that we’re even better placed to produce the next Odyssey or In Our Time by examining the story of a veteran in such a place.

But should your ambitions be lower than being the next Hemingway or Homer, there is this: our history as a state is intertwined with the twists and turns of both hot, and cold, wars throughout the 20th century. There is a trove of material awaiting research and telling. From the forgotten battles of WWII’s Aleutian Islands Campaign to the Shackleton-esque survival story of the Clobbered Turkey, fell deeds await your words. Socially-minded authors might pay close attention to the untold story of the Alaska Territorial Guard, whose members were not granted veteran status until 2000, and whose example is a forgotten scion of the integration of minorities and women into the military.

I guess that all this is to say that there’s a wealth of material at your fingertips, and it all begins with a keystroke, a scribble in a worn notebook, or a lingering question. I hope you accept the challenge. It’ll make a hell of a story.

Matthew Komatsu is an author and currently serving veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2014, he enrolled in the University of Alaska-Anchorage's MFA in Creative Writing program as a Nonfiction candidate. He has published essays in The New York Times; War, Literature and the Arts; and on stage at Anchorage, AK's Arctic Entries. War, Literature, and the Arts nominated his memoir-essay, "31 North 64 East" for a Pushcart Prize. He also has a flash essay upcoming in the September 2015 issue of Brevity. You can follow him on Twitter @matthew_komatsu.

Categories: Arts & Culture

Recent Reads

What Turtle Blood Tastes Like - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 3:23pm

Once upon a time when not writing I at least would take some time to jot notes about the good words I was filling my brain with so let’s give that a shot again.  Once upon a time I also used to write list poems building on the riff, ‘while you were smoking’ and I’d dive into the multitude of things I’d accomplish or at least observe, think, smell, taste, read and dream while my acquaintances were outside, dying a little.  Okay no dying a little here, these books are more about growing a little as a poet with more process-awareness ninja skills.

Walking down the stairs: selections from the interviews
by Galway Kinnell

This is super interesting, especially Kinnell’s snarky remarks in the introduction about how odd of an assignment he’d been given by the publisher. Basically, go back through all the published interviews you’ve given and select (and feel free to edit or clarify) the ones that capture the essence of your work. It’s like a framed story, the poet, writing about himself, narrating his life as seen through a mirror, or a lense, or an idealized reality, gets a chance to write his wrongs of sorts, or clarify when originally obtuse or at least inarticulate. A good read. While you’re at it check out another from the series by AK poet John Haines called Living off the Country: Reflections on how landscape, the imagination, and the “real world” color the creative process .  These two titles are part of the Poets On Poetry series that University of Michigan Press has been publishing for 40 years.

Close Calls with Nonsense: reading new poetry
by Stephen Burt
Poet and critic Burt equates the challenges associated with understanding poetry with putting together furniture from IKEA. Without the instructions, as challenging as all those pictograms can be, we can hardly imagine the brilliant rocking chair with sleek, modern Swedish minimalist design.

A Poet’s Glossary
By Edward Hirsch

Okay this one is a bit terrifying for a self-taught poet with little, to zero formal training but hey, that’s why I’ll be starting an MFA in poetry in 3 weeks! I’m very interested in the history of literary forms, literary history in general and love reading encyclopedia style entries devoted entirely to esoteric literature. Anyway if you’ve ever wondered what a ghazal or an abecedarian is, this is your chance. Here’s a blurb,

Hirsch defines any term in English you can think of and many more, along with ghinnawa, a form of Bedouin folk poetry; the Sanskrit term rasa, denoting the “soul of poetry”; and shan-shui, China’s rivers-and-mountain verse. A thrilling “repertoire of poetic secrets,” this radiant compendium is shaped by Hirsch’s abiding gratitude for the demands and power, illumination, and solace of poetry, “a human fundamental.”
— Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)


Filed under: glimpses
Categories: Arts & Culture

From the Archives: Andromeda on Why POV matters to readers

49 Writers - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 5:00am
One of the first books that ever rattled my very inner core was a simple chapter book about a boy being bullied. I’ve tried for years to remember the title and author, but can’t. I was in fifth grade or so when I read it, and don’t trust my memory about the details, only about the delayed impact. The impact came after I read the second book in the series (if it was a series, rather than one book with two distinct parts): the same story told from the bully’s perspective. 
Until this point, I’d just fallen into fiction, happy to surrender to the enchantment of an imagined world, unable to stand outside and see them as “made” things, shaped by a living author. But reading this second book, it somehow became clear. The writer decided to tell the same story from the former antagonist’s point of view! What can I say? It hit me like a freight train. I read the book and understood why the bully was the way he was. The facts hadn’t changed; the perspective had. This seemed like an essential key to life. We call it empathy of course; I didn’t know that word at the time. I just knew that a book (or a series of books) was a fantastic way to achieve this effect, because it allowed you to step completely into the mind and life of another person–even the person you thought was the “bad guy.” 
As adult readers and writers, we’d say, “Well, of course.” But there was no “of course” for me. It seemed like a miracle that changed books, and changed the way I perceived the real world outside of books. I actually encountered some brief bullying around this time, from a big, sullen girl from another class who liked to push around kids, and who caught me one day standing in the center of a jungle gym. She rallied all her gigantic (okay, probably four-and-a-half-feet) thugs around the metal contraption and they taunted and pulled at my hair. The principal found out and “Barbie” and I both got in trouble–go figure–though at least we managed to avoid the infamous principal’s discipline paddle. (A bit of a sadist, that one.) 
The next time I saw her on the playground, I walked up to Barbie and said hi. We started talking. And strange but true: I left school that day with Barbie’s phone number scrawled in barely legible numbers (she wasn’t the brightest kid, I realized) on a damp little slip of paper. I never called, but she never bothered me again, either. I remember thinking that if I just tried to imagine what she was really like from the inside of her own skin then I didn’t need to be afraid of her. If the fear didn’t show on my face, I could walk up to her, and if I walked up to her and started talking, it was different from being hunted down, and something would change. And it did. 
Bullying stories rarely turn out that easy. But as a reader and a writer-to-be, that little episode meant a lot to me. Through my reading, I could get to understand a lot of Barbies –and many other people as well, including people who lived in different places or even in different historical periods. (A year later, I’d start reading books by Jane Auel, about prehistoric people living in caves who were–and weren’t–like people I knew. Mind-blowing!)
Growing up, my mother often cautioned me not to “be a mind reader” or expect her to be one, either. But in truth, we’re all mind readers. In her book Why We Read Fiction, Lisa Zunshine merges cognitive science and literary theory to suggest that reading minds–practicing it, dealing with successively greater challenges of understanding–was important in our evolutionary history and one reason we still get such pleasure today in reading novels. Fiction helps us see inside others’ minds, often many of them in a single book, tracking people’s thoughts (and quite often, errors), and even what imagined people are thinking about other imagined people, on up through many layers of mind-reading and source-tracking complexity. 
Regardless of what point-of-view a work uses, that viewpoint stretches our abilities to imagine, empathize, and practice those mind-reading skills that happen to be one of our brain’s favorite activities. It’s amazing to know what a bully is thinking–or a murderer, or a cavewoman, or a man from Mars. It’s instructive and entertaining to read a multi-generational saga told in alternating viewpoints (or recounted by an omniscient narrator), in which we get such contrasting views from siblings, parents and children, men and women. It’s inherently satisfying to view the world through even one intelligent but otherwise ordinary mind that is different from our own.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Leslie Hsu Oh Interviews Leigh Newman, author of Still Points North

49 Writers - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 5:00am

When I first met Leigh Newman at Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, I felt like I found my long lost sister. We are both raising our children in an urban setting (New York for her, Washington, D.C. for me) when we hope to pass on the values we learned in the wilderness. In Still Points North, out now in paperback from Shorefast Editions, Newman writes with tenderness about searching for identity and the difference between how to survive and knowing how to truly live. It was a finalist for the National Book Critic's Circle John Leonard Prize. Her fiction, essays and book reviews have appeared in One Story, Tin House, The New York Times Modern Love and Sunday Book Review, Fiction, Vogue, O The Oprah Magazine, Sunset, Real Simple and Bookforum. She currently serves as Books Editor of Oprah.com and teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. 

The first time I read Still Points North, by the time I got near the end, I flipped through the last few pages impatient to find out whether this self-reliant/self-exiled travel writer would choose marriage or divorce. We are all dying to know if you are still married to Lawrence, for how long, how old are your kids, and what is his reaction to this book and comments readers have made about him? Does he come with you on book tours?
Wow! You're right. I should included a follow-up insert. Yes, Law and I are still married. We have two kids, both boys. One is 9 and the other 5. As for Lawrence's reaction to the book: he loves the reader comments; he comes off great! 

At the end of your book, you drop teasers like “mugged at knifepoint by a transvestite (long story, another book)….drifting until you end up on camelback at the border of Libya (long story, another book).” Well, which book are you working on? And if you aren’t working on these stories, can you please tell us what happened?
I'm working on a book of short stories about Anchorage—and that weird existence between the city and the wilderness. Most of it is about dreamers, dazzled and deluded and crashing to earth. Not unlike myself. 

The stories you're talking about are part of a book I may never write…I 'm not sure. It's about very dumb things I did and survived.

In your book trailer, you say “by age eight, I could land a 40 pound king salmon, dig out an outhouse, patch a wader.” Will your kids be able to make similar claims? As a mother raising a nine-year-old, six-year-old, and one-year-old in the Washington DC area, I’m often frustrated that I can’t give my children experiences like hiking with crampons on a glacier at the age of two when we lived in Alaska. I too have photos from my childhood like the one on the cover of the book (your sassy pose beside your father who is repairing something in front of his floatplane and your dog Jasmine) and those you shared in various interviews (you as an infant bouncing up and down in a pack n’ play in the woods beside a tent) which I’m trying to capture for my kids now. What have you done to make sure your kids have the same experiences you did with your dad?

I just do the best I can. I try to go up with the kids once a year. This year we're going to Fairbanks to go snow machining with my brother, who lives in a dry cabin. Other years, we've gone fishing, camping , skiing. The Alaska I grew up is kind of gone for me now—my dad no longer flies so we use cars and boats to get into the bush, which is a totally different experience. Powerful but different. I also just try to teach them all the skills they will need. They both ski, fish and do archery.

One of the things I loved about your book was the parenting tips that surface here and there. For example, “Ask kids about feelings. Specific ones. Mad. Sad. Broken Heart.” Do you have any tips for moms who are or dream of being travel writers?

Leave the kids with dad. Go. Come back with big present.  It will be happifying for you and inspirational for your kids. Show them how you want to live.

In interviews you shared that the process of writing Still Points North was not easy including a coffee spill right before the manuscript was due that shorted out your computer, “I wrote a lot of sloppy, long, meandering drafts. My editor Jennifer Smith at Dial was the one who kept (gently) pointing me in the right direction. Her comments really woke me up to the values of collaboration, even when that meant cutting out 120 pages (an excruciating process). The same went for her editorial assistant, Hannah, who weighed in on key points. Once I let them in, I had to let everybody in—agents, PR people, other writers. They all had good ideas, ones better than my own. It’s kind of shocking when you think about how talented and insightful people can be when you offer them the chance to help you.” From the point of time in which you sold Still Points North on a book proposal to publication, what advice can you offer other memoirists on how to navigate the implosion or explosion of a book? When to listen to your gut vs. agents/editors/writers?
I think….that you have the best b.s. meter. Usually when a good editor or agent points out an issue, you already know it's an issue, you just couldn't admit it to yourself. It is almost a relief to get rid of the problem. If they point out something that really doesn't resonate—just don't do it. I usually sit on edits for 3 days before I say or do anything. The first day I’m furious and weepy and sure they are idiots who just don’t get my vision. Then the second day, they might have a point. The third day, they are so insightful! How could I not have seen it!

We’ve all heard in critiques to avoid the present tense because it complicates what Philip Lopate calls the “double perspective, that will allow the reader to participate vicariously in the experience as it was lived (the confusions and misapprehensions of the child one was, say), while conveying the sophisticated wisdom of one’s current self.” And yet, you managed to do this beautifully in Still Points North. Please do share your secret.
I don't know. I wish I did. I had read almost no memoirs when I wrote mine, save A Boy's Life, which is in past tense. Now, of course, I feel so conflicted. Writing in the present tense is so natural for me. But I read all kinds of criticism about it (see William Gass) and it does rob you of reflecting, as an adult, on the complexity of what happened in your past. You lose out on your own hard won insight . So I wish I could do it differently—I feel very animalistic about writing, very instinctual—but I go back to the present, again and again. The past tense to me is sophisticated, elegant, and I long for it the way rube always long for urbanity, even as a rube knows she is still a rube.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Suggested Exercise For Weavers

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Sun, 04/19/2015 - 5:02pm

Tibetan 5 Rites – from Qi Gong class – 1994 — Suggested number of times for each separate movement is 5

Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers will sit for many hours at a time enjoying ourselves as we watch our weavings come to life; it’s always exciting!  To counterbalance the long hours of sitting, the above simple movements can help keep us flexible.   Our bodies are vehicles, they are a tool to help us enjoy, achieve, create, re-create and live our lives.  More often than not, every one of us abuse and/or ignore our bodies in some form or another and we wonder how come we don’t feel or look good?  If we desire longevity with our current capabilities to be mobile and continue creating our weavings, we need to incorporate good health habits now and always.

Like many of us indigenous folk, there are many ways I had kept fit naturally while maintaining every-day life:  I used to live up three flights of stairs and hauled everything from firewood, to kids, to groceries, musical instruments, costumes and props, weaving looms, pounds of fresh caught fish and lots of 5-gallon buckets of fresh berries, painting and art supplies, furniture, new washer, dryer, refigerator and piano.  I once had a landscape company for 13 years where I specialized in building rock walls and digging up indigenous plants hauling them from the woods or beach and replanting with domestic plants and trees.  Living this way is a wholistic approach to keeping healthy, physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally.   I enjoyed silent pride in the strength of my body, mind and spirit.  And instead of signing up for a gym membership, I got paid to “work out.”

I am no longer that active; haven’t been for the past 20 years since I left Alaska part time, and especially the past 7 years since all the family changes that took place during this time period.   Slowly but surely, I gotta admit, even though I am not overweight per se, my muscles have all gone flabby.  I know it ain’t easy for you to read this, but there you have it; that’s what I get for pushing 60 and no longer living on 3 flights of stairs.

Two weeks ago, when I caught a glimpse of myself jumping down from the attic steps and I saw all that shaking going on in my arms, I was flabbergasted!  Or maybe I ought to say “flabby – gasted…?”  I also found out that I have lost some hearing in my left ear.  When I asked my Left Hand Corner what to do about possibly regaining the hearing or at least not losing any more of it, the answer was:  do the “Tibetan 5 Rites…”   Huh?  Okay, I’m not going to argue.   Like my usual self, when I see or experience something I don’t like, if it’s in my personal power to do something about it, I’ll make a change.

I used to do these 5 Tibetan Rites years ago when I had learned Tai Chi, and they were very easy, no problem.  Two weeks ago on the very first day of doing these rites, I discovered how weak my body was; I could barely hold myself up without shaking, and some of the moves I could only do twice.   I was surprised, yet not.  Today, I do the recommended dosage of moves:  5 of each of the 5 moves.  With my meditative exercise plan, I have integrated a few Qi Gong movements along with a simple version of a Tai Chi movement.  It feels good to feel my body becoming stronger.

God willing, I have every intention of being as healthy as I possibly can while aging into the last 1/4 century of my life.  I’ve got lots of things I still must do before I kick any bucket.  And when I kick that bucket, I would rather avoid any shaking flab!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Dimond Pool Closed for Seasonal Maintenance starting Monday 4-20 thru 5-1

Parks and Recreation Special Events - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 4:30pm
The Augustus Brown pool is OPEN, please check their schedule.
Categories: Arts & Culture, Outdoors

Ben: Writing in a Cafe

49 Writers - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 6:00am
You walk into the Kaladi Brother’s Cafe on Northern Lights Boulevard and order a 16 ounce latte.  Yum.  It costs four dollars and a fifth goes in the tip jar.  It’s snowing hard outside.  Everyone in here is wearing a hat.  Those who speak are close in and quiet with their companions.  The steam machine and the music build a hum around you—the kind of white noise that matches the snow outside.

You sit at the curved bar with one other guy.  He looks at his phone.  He’s reading.  People watching movies don’t have that bright-eyed intensity readers have.  It’s time to write.

Your hands have been suffering from poor typing practice.  You pull a brace on your right hand just before the barista brings over your drink.  Thanks.

Now you have to earn five dollars.  What are they worth, the words you write?  Can you put a value on them.  Sure.  A dollar a page.  Write a page for every dollar you spend on coffee.  You may never earn it back, but you get to enjoy the nutty drink.  Man, they make a good coffee here.  This is no longer just about writing.  This is about living a life you have chosen instead of one thrust on you.

But you have about three quarters of an hour before they expect you home.  The snow is blowing across the road outside.  It’s freezing to the windshields out there and slicking the roads.  Better put those aching fingers on the keyboard and bang out some pages.  You’re buying them.

Then there is the tuition.  You pay to learn about writing in your MFA program.  You pay for your computer.  Your wife agreed to the program and the computer because you were going crazy before you had time to write.  That snow out there would kill you if you didn’t write.  So you drink the coffee and you try to write four pages.  The tip is a gift to the world.  Any tip is a gift to the world.  But mostly, you don’t spend money writing.  You spend time writing.  You write to stay alive in the crazy, white world you live in.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Matthew Komatsu: Reading War

49 Writers - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 5:00am


“Only the dead have seen the end of war” – Plato

History agrees with Plato’s pragmatic suggestion that war is engrained in the human condition. As such, it is as fair game as anything else within the human experience for artistic rendition.

Look, you can scratch the surface of war with ease. Kill memoirs do it on a regular basis, and even journalism rarely gets much past war’s fundamental values: kill or be killed. But this is not what draws my interest. Don’t get me wrong – the documentation of the experience is important. I am not arguing these things shouldn’t be written. But if, like me, you want something more, something that gets after those common threads of the human experience; then you want something you can claw. Something that peels back the layers of the onion and gets beyond the scene and into the underlying story.

Hemingway knew this, applied it in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Think of the mustard gas poetry of Sassoon and Graves, Wilfred Owen, All Quiet on the Western Front. Slaughterhouse Five. The Red Badge of Courage. War and Peace. The Iliad. Gilgamesh.

My MFA reading list skipped the glancing blows and went for the gut shots. Books that unsettled me, made me angry, lumped my throat, and inhabited my dreams. I found a wealth of nonfiction that deserves our attention, but here are my top memoir picks.

On Vietnam: 
- Dispatches, Michael Herr. Herr spent a year (1968ish) in Vietnam on a nebulous Esquire assignment. But unlike his journalistic peers, he worked without deadlines or assignments. He chose his narrative. And boy, is it a hell of a ride. Fragmented, challenging, soaked in LSD and hazy with weed smoke, cynical yet sentimental. If you read one nonfiction book on Vietnam, this is it.

On George Bush’s Iraq:
- Jarhead, Anthony Swofford. I’m re-reading this Marine’s tale right now. Political, angry, hilarious and stinging. Swofford’s narrator has some things to say.

On Afghanistan:
- War, Sebastian Junger. The literary partner to the acclaimed documentary Restrepo, this book documents a year in the most dangerous area in Afghanistan. Essentially an examination of why young men are drawn to war, Junger’s answer is surprising: love.

On George W. Bush’s Iraq:
Dust to Dust, Benjamin Busch. This book transcends war with a poetry unlike anything I’ve encountered. Sure, Iraq figures heavily, but as I would expect from the son of Frederick Busch, it’s just one experience that informs the story of a life. The narrative is fragmented but chaptered by elemental themes like fire, water, dust. I highly recommend you become familiar with Benjamin Busch.

Of course, this is just a beginning, a sample of men who’ve participated in war. But what about the other side, the voices who’ve not been heard? The stories exist, but I’ve had to work harder to find them. Amalie Flynn recently blogged for me here about her experiences as a war spouse, and you can out Michiko Kakutani’s New York Times article, which is damn near all-inclusive. On a budget? Read these for free: Brandon Lingle’s outstanding “Keeping Pace”, “I Said Infantry” by Brian Turner, and JA Moad’s meta discussion on the modern veteran writer.

Reading these authors will teach you that war is like any other life experience; it’s just that the volume is cranked up and the consequences are higher. Against its backdrop, the real stories emerge: culture, love, tedium, mental health, pain, healing, death and survival. It’s these stories that illuminate the true experience of war.


Matthew Komatsu is an author and currently serving veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2014, he enrolled in the University of Alaska-Anchorage's MFA in Creative Writing program as a Nonfiction candidate. He has published essays in The New York Times; War, Literature and the Arts; and on stage at Anchorage, AK's Arctic Entries. War, Literature, and the Arts nominated his memoir-essay, "31 North 64 East" for a Pushcart Prize. He also has a flash essay upcoming in the September 2015 issue of Brevity. You can follow him on Twitter @matthew_komatsu.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Ben: Writing Letters to Grandma

49 Writers - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 5:19am
Dear GrandmaI write letters to my grandmother.  I feel pressure to keep something in the mail.  She is my only regular reader.

On my grandmother’s 92nd birthday, she told my aunt that her second daughter’s family, my mother’s family, wrote to her more than anyone else called her on the telephone.  That may not have been true; a letter has more impact than a telephone call and persists in memory.

It is easy to forget the power of writing for a single person.  I hope this post is read by many people.  When a book comes out, everyone involved hopes that a hoard of readers will grab it and dig in.  Even with a hoard, the book must still be read by each individual.  Experiencing a piece of writing as a cultural phenomenon can have value, but the books that move us personally feel as if they are written for us; the writer crafted those words for our eyes.

With a book, that may not be true.  With a letter, it is.  When I write a letter, it is for my grandmother or for my sister or for my friend.  If someone else reads it, that may be fine (depending on the content of the letter), but that does not mean the letter is for them.  I do not address the recipient of my letter to a “gentle reader” the way Isaac Asimov sometimes did in his books.

The post From the Archives: Deb Vanasse on Push-ups and Poses from a few days ago talks about the power of being constrained by a form.  A writing exercise is one way to force that constraint.  Writing a letter is another.  When I write to someone specific in a letter, my writing becomes focussed and constrained in the same way it does when I work on a writing exercise.

In Brian Kiteley’s book The 3 A.M. Epiphany, he marries the idea of an exercise with a letter.  For the exercise, “Letters From Inside the Story,” the writer is instructed to “Have one character in a story you’re working on write a story to another character in the same story.”  Ariel Gore, in her book How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, suggests letter writing as the first stepping stone to sending your writing out into the world.

A letter doesn’t cary much glory with it.  It is a humble form of writing.  We sometimes read the letters of famous people, but no one grows famous for their letters beyond the small circle of friends and family they write to.

In the end, the best reason to write a letter may be in the impact it has on the relationship between you and whoever you send it to.  My grandmother lives two thousand miles from here, but I am always in her apartment when one of my letters is on her table and that keeps both of us closer to each other.  Isn’t that the reason we write anything at all: to be closer to other human beings?  It's time to finish that letter and get it in the mail.


Categories: Arts & Culture

Writing Letters to Grandma

49 Writers - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 5:19am
Dear GrandmaI write letters to my grandmother.  I feel pressure to keep something in the mail.  She is my only regular reader.

On my grandmother’s 92nd birthday, she told my aunt that her second daughter’s family, my mother’s family, wrote to her more than anyone else called her on the telephone.  That may not have been true; a letter has more impact than a telephone call and persists in memory.

It is easy to forget the power of writing for a single person.  I hope this post is read by many people.  When a book comes out, everyone involved hopes that a hoard of readers will grab it and dig in.  Even with a hoard, the book must still be read by each individual.  Experiencing a piece of writing as a cultural phenomenon can have value, but the books that move us personally feel as if they are written for us; the writer crafted those words for our eyes.

With a book, that may not be true.  With a letter, it is.  When I write a letter, it is for my grandmother or for my sister or for my friend.  If someone else reads it, that may be fine (depending on the content of the letter), but that does not mean the letter is for them.  I do not address the recipient of my letter to a “gentle reader” the way Isaac Asimov sometimes did in his books.

The post From the Archives: Deb Vanasse on Push-ups and Poses from a few days ago talks about the power of being constrained by a form.  A writing exercise is one way to force that constraint.  Writing a letter is another.  When I write to someone specific in a letter, my writing becomes focussed and constrained in the same way it does when I work on a writing exercise.

In Brian Kiteley’s book The 3 A.M. Epiphany, he marries the idea of an exercise with a letter.  For the exercise, “Letters From Inside the Story,” the writer is instructed to “Have one character in a story you’re working on write a story to another character in the same story.”  Ariel Gore, in her book How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, suggests letter writing as the first stepping stone to sending your writing out into the world.

A letter doesn’t cary much glory with it.  It is a humble form of writing.  We sometimes read the letters of famous people, but no one grows famous for their letters beyond the small circle of friends and family they write to.

In the end, the best reason to write a letter may be in the impact it has on the relationship between you and whoever you send it to.  My grandmother lives two thousand miles from here, but I am always in her apartment when one of my letters is on her table and that keeps both of us closer to each other.  Isn’t that the reason we write anything at all: to be closer to other human beings?  It's time to finish that letter and get it in the mail.


Categories: Arts & Culture

Starting A New Chilkat Robe

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 11:33am

Clarissa begins preliminary sketch of her next Chilkat robe entitled “Egyptian Thunderbird” – © Clarissa Rizal – March 2015

I have started weaving my next Chilkat robe for the Thunderbird Clan.  This is all I am saying for now.  Stay tuned for periodic blog entries on this robe for this next year…!

Approximately 750 yards of 10 e.p.i. warp is needed for this Chilkat robe measuring 60″ w x 51″h – all warp prepared and spun by Clarissa Rizal

Clarissa’s weaving loom, balls of warp, weft yarns, warp stick and weaving supplies – April 11, 2015

The first 6 to 7 rows of a Chilkat robe are always done in white; this depth is to accommodate the fluffiness of the fur trim added to the top edge of a Chilkat robe. – Clarissa Rizal – April 2015

 

Categories: Arts & Culture

From the Archives: Deb: Start and Stuck

49 Writers - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 5:00am
“We think before the writing, and afterward. But during the writing, we listen.”Madeleine L’Engle
Lynn Freed had a problem most writers would die for: upon publication of her second book, her editor and agent were clamoring for the next one.  Not a sequel, her agent insisted, but something new, something fresh.
Freed had nothing.  Well, not exactly nothing.  She had a place, a bungalow she had visited as a schoolgirl in South Africa, overlooking the Indian Ocean.  The place still felt real to her, after all the years that had passed, real in the magical way that writers love.  And she had an idea, that in this bungalow a character would find herself truly at home.
So she began, as she describes in her essay “False Starts” (Writers Workshop in a Book: Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction) . She set a woman named Anita on the bungalow’s veranda and wrote a few lovely paragraphs describing how she looked out at the sky and the ocean.  Then she came to a dead stop.  She began again, this time after imagining Anita’s mad sister had been banished to the bungalow.  The mad woman proved a distraction - this Freed discovered when her project again stalled.
As Freed aptly puts it, “Fiction has an odd way of both failing the tentative and resisting hot pursuit.” But she had begun, so she pushed on. She ditched the mad woman and returned to Anita on the veranda, wrote a couple of chapters, grew bold enough even to read them at author events. “Dying to know what happens,” kind readers would say to her afterwards.  “So was I,” Freed admits.
No matter how she began, the story stalled. Two years, and she’d written forty pages.  Four years, and the agent and editor stopped asking.  
Forced to write, students spend a lot of time staring at a blank screen or page, complaining they don’t know how to begin.  But real writers know how to begin.  We set out eagerly, finger to keyboard, pen to page. Then all too often, like Freed, we stall.
We stare at the place we got stuck.  What next? What next? What next? We tweak what we’ve written, twist options around in our brains, and still we get nowhere.  Frustration mounts, circling vulture-like with the pressure to produce something, anything, to get past the stuck point.  The project gets canned, shelved, stuck in a drawer unless like Freed we’re too compulsive or stubborn to let go.
But here’s the thing about stuck points: they’re invariably useful when we work through them, or more precisely, when they force us back to the beginning, not to tweak it but to pull up and out of the stall by forcing the issue of why we started the blasted thing in the first place, because what prompts us to start a story or poem can with irksome fickleness lead us astray. Yet if we dig through and under and around our starting point, be it a place or a voice or a character or an idea, if we allow for the messy mushing together of experience and imagination – composting, Ursula LeGuin calls its – we will find our way through, sometimes at the place we got stuck but more often back at the beginning.
Freed eventually landed at the Bellagio Study Centre in Italy.  Five weeks to write, to work on “a book of fiction,” which was all she could at that point say confidently about her project.  A little mix-up: her computer wouldn’t be available for two weeks.  So she started all over. Completely. She got out her notebook and wrote “Untitled” at the top of the page.  Then, she says, “I had to lie down and sleep for the rest of the day.” 
Whether it was the paper and pen or the time that had passed or the easing of external pressure to produce this particular book, the story broke loose.  It turned out to be a sequel after all, Ruth Frank from Freed’s previous book, with a lost cause of a lover and a father she thought had died but hadn’t, a story about place and displacement. The Bungalow ended up a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, beginning not with a woman or a verandah but a victim of murder.
My students hear this often: Writing is a recursive process of discovery.  Stuck points shove us back to where we began. They force us outside the circle to consider how we got there and why. They push us up and out, to try something new.  Posing as failure, stuck points offer hope.
And may we all be as candid as Lynn Freed in sharing our failures, which when we’re writing invariably accumulate faster than our successes.
Try This:  Stuck or not, return to your beginning.  Rewrite it completely, with a place or a scene or a character you hadn’t envisioned.  The idea isn’t to make use of this reworked start (though you might), but rather to see how it illuminates your project.
Check This Out: Writers Workshop in a Book: Squaw ValleyCommunity of Writers on the Art of Fiction, edited by Alan Cheuse and Lisa Alvarez .  This collection of faculty essays convinced me to apply for Squaw Valley, one of the most helpful and delightful weeks I’ve ever spent as a writer.  As Richard Ford says in his introduction to the book, at Squaw they put wonder on display. What better way to teach writing?

Deb cross-posts at www.selfmadewriter.blogspot.com.
Categories: Arts & Culture

And then there was Richard Siken…

What Turtle Blood Tastes Like - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 8:44am

I hope you’ll take a moment to walk with Richard through this postcard and in that moment, by which I mean a universe, you will connect your love for poetry with a love for independent publishers like Copper Canyon Press and Spork Press. Perhaps even that will lead you along a path and at the end of that path, Richard’s long awaited second poetry collection, War of the Foxes.

Please consider supporting this project.

This video says everything I’ve longed to say about why I come to poetry, why my hands too are birds becoming and unbecoming and always flying. Thanks Copper Canyon Press and Richard for this gift.


Filed under: Poetry
Categories: Arts & Culture

Superintendent speaks out about student privacy rights

Juneau School District Announcements - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 2:40pm

Supe's On  - Welcome to the Superintendent's Blog

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Categories: Arts & Culture

School District Report on Investigation into Hazing

Juneau School District Announcements - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 4:35pm

The Juneau School District has concluded our investigation into allegations that on or about May 30-31 of this year a group of incoming senior boys hazed/initiated a group of incoming freshmen boys by paddling them multiple times.

These events were first brought to our attention in early June. At that time the district began an initial investigation, which, due to an active police investigation and summer vacation, was put on hold. When we were informed that the police had concluded their investigation we resumed our efforts.

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Categories: Arts & Culture

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