Tuesday, September 30, 2014

instructions for writers

This is by Jane Kenyon. Instructions for writers. Probably the best writing instructions I've yet found.

Be a good steward to your gifts. 
Protect your time.
Feed your inner life.
Avoid too much noise.
Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.
Be by yourself as often as you can. 
Walk.
Take the phone off the hook. [These days: Disable the internet.]
Work regular hours. 



And you know what I like so much about this list? It's completely non-sexy. It doesn't have some pumped-up vibe, some, "You can do this! Go out and write! Believe in yourself! Seize the day!!!" vibe. Or a "You go, girl" vibe. No. Nothing like that. It is just simply writing advice for people of a particular temperament, who are serious about writing. And it is writing advice that, if you follow it, and you are serious about writing--it will work.

Monday, September 29, 2014

men don't have it as easy as we women sometimes think

Today, just basically by chance, I came across a few things on the interwebs speaking to the subjects of men, friendship, suicide, and gender expectations. In my previous post I quoted Emma Watson, who spoke recently at the United Nations on the subject of gender. I love what she says at the end of her talk, where she specifies ways that men are harmed by gender norms and expectations, and how that harming harms all of us. Then, just now, I read a blog post on OnBeing, about how difficult it is for most men in western culture to form deep, lasting friendships with other men. She, the author of the post, even connects the scarcity of male friendships with the very high global suicide rate among young men. I'm sure there are many complex reasons for that high suicide rate, and I'm also sure that she's right, that gender demands are very high on the list of those reasons.

If you do read the blog post, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

My other recommended read of the day is an account of a man whose family emigrated to the States when he was a boy, and then as an adult man in his 30s with a family of his own he chose to return to Gaza to live. As far as I can tell, he still lives there.

we all deserve to be whole

"I've seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer, and pulmonary heart disese. I've seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don't have the benefits of equality either.

"We don't often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are, and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don't have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won't be compelled to be submissive. If men don't control, women won't have to be controled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals.

"...I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice. But also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim those parts of themselves that they abandoned, and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves."

-Emma Watson, addressing the United Nations

Saturday, September 27, 2014

weather forecast in sitka

Last night, listening to the radio station in Sitka (the radio station--the one), I was extremely amused by the weather, which was the following, no exaggeration (Kake, Angoon, & Port Alexander are "nearby" communities)--

Sitka, Friday night--rain and wind
Sitka, Saturday morning--rain and wind
Sitka, Saturday night--rain and wind
Sitka, Sunday morning--rain and wind

Angoon, Friday night--rain and wind
Angoon, Saturday morning--rain and wind
Angoon, Saturday night--rain and wind
Angoon, Sunday morning--rain and wind


Kake, Friday night--rain and wind
Kake, Saturday morning--rain and wind
Kake, Saturday night--rain and wind
Kake, Sunday morning--rain and wind

Port Alexander, Friday night--rain and wind
Port Alexander, Saturday morning--rain and wind
Port Alexander, Saturday night--rain and wind
Port Alexander, Sunday morning--rain and wind


The thing I thought was so great was that the announcer actually said out the entire forecast, even though he could've just said, "It'll be rainy and windy everywhere." 

What's even better was that just now as I was writing this, the exact same thing happened! Except that the forecaster included more places--Elfin Cove, Tenake Springs, Yakitat. All rain and wind. 

(By the way, those places are all very sparsely populated. Sitka is a town, and I think that Port Alexander has about 50 people in it. Everywhere else is even smaller than that. For a number of folks in those tiny places, the radio is their only means of communication. They don't have phones. I suppose they probably do have VHF.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

"how you spend your days is how you spend your life." -annie dillard

Here, finally, are some photos of the house where I am staying.








This is a view of the mountains from the harbor. These mountains are all part of Baranof Island. Sitka is on the western side of Baranof, towards the north. The bays wrap around so that there are mountains like this that don't quite seem like part of the same island--but they are.

A PSA, in case anyone wondered about whether or not kids float. This is taken from above the same harbor as the last picture.

I took a walk a few days ago and this was one of the many trees I encountered. It's common to see root systems way above ground like this. I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer about why that is so!

This is Indian River, the river I was walking alongside on my walk.

See the fish? These are salmon swimming up the river, getting ready to spawn. There are thousands and thousands of salmon all doing this right now. As you probably already know, salmon are in the process of dying while they're in the process of spawning. Their skin has turned black and is starting to fall off, even as they look for somewhere to lay their eggs (or, for males, a female's eggs to fertilize). So the rivers are full of spawning fish and they're also full of dead fish. There are dead salmon layered on the river banks, at the bottoms of the river, into the forests where mammals and birds have pulled the fish to eat them, and even hanging from the trees where birds have carried them to feast on. The smell is....well, it's exactly what you would expect from a place caked with thousands upon thousands of dead fish.

More spawning salmon, if you look closely.

In the lower left of this photo you can see a salmon skeleton. Just right here along the path where I was walking. This is a ways into the forest, too--several miles from the ocean. But, did you know that in the interior of Alaska salmon swim for hundreds of miles into the rivers to spawn? That is crazy, comrades. Certifiably crazy.

Here's the muskeg that I walked to. I could've walked miles more but my back has been hurting so I turned back.

I didn't think about how dark it was until I looked at my pictures! This is another photo of the muskeg (which is a bog). Days here are often dark, and as winter comes on they'll get darker.

A tree in the muskeg. This particular kind of moss hangs from the muskeg trees making it all look ghostlike.

This picture is from this past Sunday. I drove 7 1/2 miles north of town, and then the road ended. You can drive a little further on the road that goes south, but not much. And that's it, the only two roads that go out of town! They just, simply, end.

Here's the beginning of my walk that day--on Sunday--to Mosquito Cove.

And this is from this morning. I walked a couple hundred feet from the house and took this photo. Trying to show how the mountains really do go right into the town. There were some people visiting this week (visiting the Island Institute) from Juneau and Anchorage, folks who've traveled all around Alaska, and they said that Sitka really is especially beautiful, even as Alaska goes.


And this is the view from the street where I'm saying. I showed you a view from this street facing the other direction--into the forest. This view is facing the water and the mountains of Baranof on the other side of the water.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

things to read that matter

In my search for journals that might publish my writing, I've been reading a great deal--to get a sense of each journal before submitting to it. One thing I hadn't realized but which I can now declare with a fair bit of confidence is that as far as I can tell, in the small-press literary world there are more contests, journals, zines, etc. dedicated to poetry than to any other genre. I can also say with conviction that there is a lot of fantastic writing being published. You just have to know where to look to find it.

Here are the top three essays that have stuck with me lately. I highly, highly recommend reading all three.

1. "A Simple, Declarative Sentence," by Bonnie Nadzam, was published in TriQuarterly at the beginning of this year. It's about a young woman (aka the author, this being creative nonfiction) who had an affair with an older man. The older man's wife takes the young woman under her wing and tries to teach her a thing or two. This essay is so worth reading. It's worth reading if you are interested in human relationships, or in good writing, and especially if you are interested in the complexities of language.

2. "Rape Culture in the Alaskan Wilderness," by Sara Bernard, published last week in The Atlantic Monthly is a fantastic and heart-crushing piece of journalism. It's about exactly what it sounds like it's about: the prevalence of rape in the Alaskan wilderness, and just how protected rapists are culturally. The essay also explores how and why rape might be so common in the small, isolated Alaskan villages. The essay is part of a huge cultural conversation about....well, colonization, for starters. If you care about gender relationships, and racial relationships, and violence, I highly recommend this essay.

3. Literal Latte was a journal new to me, but now that I've found it I know it's going to be one of my favorite places to read. Jean Guerrero won their recent essay context with her essay, "Juanita and the Beach of Fairies." I sat down to read a paragraph or two of it, just to get a feel for what kind of writing Literal Latte publishes, and I read straight through the whole essay in one long gulp. It's the riveting story of her near-drowning experience, and everything that happened afterwards.

All three of these essays matter. They all three give voice to deeply personal experiences that haven't historically been given voice. The writing is excellent in all three, and the thinking is excellent, and the feeling is real. They're all three examples of why I hope good writers will keep working hard to publish. Because good writing actually does matter for reasons a whole lot more significant than getting a paycheck or building a career.


Friday, September 19, 2014

recommendation of the day + i'm not actually dissing pinterest

I'm not actually dissing Pinterest, my cronies (I'm going to start calling you all cronies, instead of comrades)....I was just trying to be funny or clever or something in my quest to recommend some websites to y'all. Read recipes on Pinterest! Have political discussions on Facebook! Tweet on Twitter! I'm all for it. I trust y'all to know what you're doing on these here interwebs.

If you get tired of the usual venues, try Autostraddle, a website I found just this very day in my search for places to publish. It's for and by and about queer/trans/gay/genderqueer culture and people. It's also for everyone else. There's news about Alison Bechdel winning the MacArthur Fellowship (have y'all heard of the Bechdel Test? I was just talking over dinner about it tonight with a friend). There's news about legislation affecting LGBTQ folks, and the new campaign--led by Obama--against sexual assault. There's news about a new Thai teen drama. And so on and so forth.

I'm not saying it's better than Facebook. But it might be.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

you can do better than facebook

Let's say you're bored and you're mindlessly clicking your way around the almighty World Wide Web. Where do you go first? Probably Facebook. Or Pinterest or Twitter or something. Dear comrades, I do not mean to offend, but you can do better than that! You may be lonely and bored but you do not have to settle for mass web consumption any more than you have to settle for McDonald's if you're hungry. Your pal Tamie is here, at your service, to help.

You all know by now that what I really think you should do is drink a hot cup of tea and stare out the window. Or go on a slow walk. Or call up a friend. But sometimes you can't, or you won't, and I understand. For all my high falutin' ideals, I spend a whole lot of time on the almighty Web too. So, for all those hours and days when you can't pull yourself away from the computer, but you think you might break your computer if you have to look at one more soul-crunching Facebook photo, I'm going to start making recommendations for where to go instead.

Recommendation of the Day: Meanjin. Meanjin is a journal based in Melbourne, Australia, and it's full of wonderful writing. Really--wonderful writing. Not pretentious writing. Not Writing Using Big Words. Not Writing Getting Off On Itself. Just writing that's nice to read, sometimes even moving and profound to read. Some of it is academic, some of it is artistic, some of it is really down-home, out-on-the-Australian-range. There's writing about spray tans, mental illness, touch, faith, children using weapons as toys, and the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Also, fiction and poetry. And, some great photos!

Meanjin will keep you busy for hours, nay probably even days. So go. Immerse. Learn. Gorge. And then, comrades, really: turn off your computers, drink tea, take a good long time and stare out the window.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

i had a day that will make y'all jealous

If my description of my day today doesn't make you jealous either A. you have reached enlightenment or B. you're not paying attention. There is no middle ground here.

I started off my morning eating oatmeal with nectarines cooked into it. Which, I mean, that alone should make you jealous. Organic oatmeal, organic nectarines, in a warm, cozy house in Alaska. On a sunny day, the first sunny day in a week. There I sat, scooping up my oatmeal, and I was thinking to myself, "I wish so much that I could go out on the water today." I sighingly pondered how much I wanted to go out on the water, and how impossible that is because it's a work day and so everyone is working, plus it's I just got here and I don't really know anyone well enough to borrow a boat....and how that is a bummer because so much of what I like about Alaska is being on the water....

And at that very moment Peter texted me saying, "Do you want to go kayaking today?"

Peter is the current director of the Island Institute (which hosted me as a writer-in-residence back in April). I got to know him a little bit back in April...

And so then, my friends, this happened:





And it was as wonderful as it looks and more.

After that, I had lunch.

After that, I got to pick up Dipika Guha, who is the current writer-in-residence the Island Institute, and show her around town! Dipika just got here yesterday; she's a playwright is will be living here in Sitka for two months, teaching playwriting workshops and working on her own plays. It's wonderful to meet a new friend, and to be familiar enough with Sitka to show someone else around who's fresh to town and still feeling disoriented. I'm sure looking forward to learning from her!

After that, I had dinner. Mac & cheese, if you must know.

After that, I went to a writing group--hosted on a boat! No lie, friends, no lie.

And now I am home and I just ate some ice cream.

See what I mean? Jealous?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

sick & reading

Yesterday I got sick. Harumph! I'm still sick, and just exhausted feeling. But I'm well enough to do some reading, and I've come across some great things in my readings that I'd like to share with you.

In the magazine, Saudi Aramco World, whose purpose is to increase cross-cultural understanding, I came across a review of two movies about Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. One movie, "Besa: The Promise," is about "countless Albanians, adhering to an ancient code of honor that bound them to shelter strangers in need, gave sanctuary to at least 2,500 Jews." These Albanians were all Muslims. The other movie, "Enemy of the Reich," is about a young Indian-Muslim woman who worked as a British spy inside Nazi-occupied land--she, too, risked (and lost) her life because her faith compelled her to help those who were suffering and dying.

Neither film is on Netflix, so I'm trying to figure out how to see them here in Sitka. Does anyone know how a person goes about hosting a screening? I'd like to host a screening for both movies, for the whole community here in Sitka. The stories of Muslims risking, and sometimes sacrificing, their lives in order to save Jews seems to me like important stories to be told right now.

On an entirely different note, the other thing I read that really got my attention was an article in The Atlantic Monthly titled "Rape Culture in the Alaskan Wilderness." According to the journalist writing the article, Sara Bernard, rape happens far more often in the Alaskan wilderness than it happens in the rest of the United States, and in some rural villages the rate of sexual assault or rape is 100%, which is to say that 100% of the women have been raped or assaulted, usually multiple times, often over decades.

The villages Bernard is writing about have no roads connecting them to the rest of the world (this is also the case in Sitka, where I now live, but Sitka is a huge town compared to the tiny villages Bernard is writing about), no police force, no social services (including a medical clinic to examine rape victims), and even no public safety officer or any civic authorities to report crime to. The Alaska State Patrol is the only authority to report to; in the area that Bernard was writing about there are 30 State Troopers to cover an area 4/5 the size of Texas. When a crime is reported (which is rare; most of the rapes go unreported), a Trooper has to get on an airplane to get to the village, which can take days--between weather conditions, shortage of troopers, and just the hugeness of the land.

I highly recommend reading the article. I don't recommend reading the comments. I don't have anything conclusive to say about the article, other than it seems really good to be aware of what is happening in the state where I am now living, a state I have often thought of as my home state.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

sitka, the romantic view









It strikes me that there are no people in any of my pictures of Sitka! Well, people do live here. It's just that I was feeling very inward when I was here in April. And I'm feeling inward again this time. But yes, people do live here. Some rather wonderful people in fact.

sitka, the non-romantic view

I live in Sitka now! At least for the next couple months. I'm house-sitting in a gorgeous house that's two blocks from downtown Sitka.

Facts about Sitka. It's claimed by some to be the oldest city in Alaska; 10,000 years ago the first people arrived. The City and Borough of Sitka encompasses over 4,000 square miles (!!!!!), which makes it the largest city in the United States. There are 9,000 people in Sitka, which makes it the 4th largest city in Alaska (!!!!!). It feels smaller to me than Kodiak, however, because even though Kodiak only has 6,000 people it also has the Coast Guard Base nearby, as well as a number of villages that come in to town and use its resources. Kodiak has a WalMart, for example, and Sitka does not. However, Sitka does have a far more thriving downtown than Kodiak, and a far more active arts community.

It's easy for me to romanticize Alaska because it feels to me like such a super place. Today I went out for a walk to try to take photos in a non-romantic way, to see what people might see who didn't think Alaska is the cat's pajamas the way I do. Here are those photos.

These are carts used on fishing docks--to haul gear back and forth between the boats.

The parking lots here look so different from parking lots in Berkeley....in that they're filled with trucks , not Priuses.

These are signs the likes of which I have never seen in the San Francisco Bay!


I do not know what this is. But here it is.


This is part of the dock system--you can see some float planes in the middle of the picture, and a coast guard boat in the back.

This is the cabin of a boat. The last time I was here, 5 months ago, most of the rest of the boat was here too. Looks to me like a boat that got wrecked, and is either being salvaged or else dismantled bit by bit. This is a few blocks away from the place where I'm staying.

I haven't eaten here, but I hear good things. I wanted to show this picture because I think it's the kind of establishment that folks who haven't been here wouldn't guess is here.

Low tide, man. I'm not so sure why this person let his/her sailboat go dry. Tourist?

The sign in town that talks about Sitka being 10,000 years old; it was the Raven/Frog Clan (of the Sheet'ka Tribe) who settled here.

I don't know, but I think this sign is in Tlingit. There is so much to learn in a new place. This is the street sign about 2 blocks from where I'm staying.

A non-romantic view of the backside downtown. You can see how even in a non-romantic view, there are still mountains and islands and water very nearby.

Here's Observatory St., where I'm staying. You are seeing the entire street here. It's short!

Here's the house. Look at the big garden in the front. I am eating kale and collard greens like a rabbit! A very happy rabbit.

leaving in six parts

Three weeks ago I wrote a series of poems about leaving the San Francisco Bay. A lot of the content of these poems has to do with how difficult it had become for me to live in a city. It was actually hard from the minute I arrived, but for a long time I thought I'd get accustomed to it, or that what so many other people appreciated about cities would become things I'd appreciate. And even though I did indeed enjoy access to good sushi, and big art galleries, and cities with very liberal agendas, mostly I just felt less and less at ease as time went along. These poems are about other things too.

Leaving I
Aerial-photograph-wise, the whole
Bay is
Criss-crushed, tidy-concrete
Divesting hills of their water-runs-down-ness, their
Echoing capacity. Instead, un-
Furrowed, earth un-used except as back-
Ground for coffee shop and crosswalk and
Hospital,
Industrial space: cool glass-steel
Jammed with space, nothing but space, rentable space,
Kempt with a hint of rough.
Lo, this is why I'm leaving.
Mammalian, I seek a den or home, not this, not this; even
Nomadic, even un-pegged-down, not this.
Orion, guide me. Orpheus, guide me.
Protect me. I may
Quake but let me not waver.
Reckoned by the wish-plea-yawing hope to
Somehow be homed, knit, known
True, known human, better human:
Undivided or di-
Vided or visioned or divested of
Wantonness. E-
Xtricate me, give ear to my
Yearning.
Zip me into your protection and spirit me away.


Leaving II
Slipping through the fence opening
under seagull call blessing,
the in/ex hale of waves--hale of moon reckoned,
this sea-Bay, my body,
another kind of blessing, the receptivity
of the water of me,
the non-independence, how I'm tossed and swayed,
sifted and churned, flooded and ebbed.
And now, here, soon, I'll say goodbye.
Step to the threshold. Slip through.


Leaving III
Desert land irrigated into a tropical
landscape they all believe in.
I can't. I never could.
It's all just one perpetual skid,
not even across the earth where I live,
but across the thin water membrane
on top. Except we're in a drought,
and we're running out of water.
I'm tired of trying to stand here.
I want my feet to touch the earth.
I want to stand where I stand,
sit where I sit, walk
where I walk. Wherever you go
there you are, true. But
also, where you go makes you who you are.


Leaving IV
Who/where am I?
Who/where are you?
Not four different questions.


Leaving, V
Thirty months in this Bay,
most of it flood tide.
Now I ebb. I'm still filled with you.
Just now in other scapes,
other coves, other harbors.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

then an era ended

On January 31, 2012, I arrived in Oakland, California. On September 11, 2014, I will leave California. Thirty months in the San Francisco Bay.

I arrived as one person, and I leave as another. Yet, I'm still just me. I'm just more me now.

For all who have blessed me here, I am grateful and changed.

Stay well. Go well. Be well.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

quote of the day

"I thought it was I alone who suffered. I went on top of the house and found every house on fire." -Baba Sheikh Farid

Friday, September 5, 2014

where i'm going next


This is Sitka. It's where I'm going next; I'll be there in six days.

Monday, September 1, 2014

the man who is walking across the world in 7 years

Comrades, I have 10 days left in Berkeley. Then I will sail--and by sail I mean fly--to Alaska. I'll be there until November for certain; after that, well, time will tell.

Meanwhile, I want to tell you about the man who is walking across the world in 7 years. He's a National Geographic Fellow, and his name is Paul Salopek. He started in Ethiopia--where humans (or hominids) probably first started--and he's following the migration routes that people took as they branched out, discovering new land. He started walking in January, from Ethiopia to Djibouti to Saudi Arabia to Jordan to Israel/Palestine and he's now in Cypress. The end of his journey, seven years from when he started, will be the southern tip of South America.

Paul Salopek's career was in journalism--all over the world, covering wars and environmental crises and economic disasters. That was quick journalism; he was there to get the story and meet deadline. Now he's doing slow journalism, stopping for long stretches to talk to people, meander around cities, listen carefully. He's blogging along the way, and he has a photographer with him, and they're doing other things too, digital things, like making virtual maps of Jerusalem.

As someone who's deeply interested in walking, reading Paul Salopek's words and hearing him talk--etc.--is a pleasure. If you're interested too, then click this link: outofedenwalk.com.