Happy Leo season, my fiery friends! I write to you from within a shimmery aura of sweat, grateful that the current heatwave here in Oregon isn’t accompanied by the wildfires and melting roads we experienced last year.
Although it’s hard to imagine through all the searing sunshine, fall is just around the corner, and as I prepare to start teaching full-time at Portland Community College in September, I’m fending off the urge to spend the rest of the summer mapping out syllabi and brushing up on the best practices and latest technologies. I’m a planner—sometimes an overplanner—so I know all those things are helpful, but what I most want to bring to students isn’t a perfectly crafted class. It’s a grounded, calm presence during a bizarre, uncertain time. To that end, I’m taking a sabbatical from screentime during August to encourage myself to spend more time in forests and on lakes. Perhaps I’ll pop back on to write next month’s newsletter… but perhaps not.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this month’s missive, and that you have your own share of grounded, calming days ahead.
I’m Running Towards Nothing
For those of you who’ve been on this newsletter journey with me for a while, you may remember me writing about my introduction to forest bathing last October
, when I took a Forest as Nourishment workshop with Tia Ho
. Slowing down and exploring my relationship with the many inhabitants of a local ancient forest was a profoundly transformative experience for me, and since then, I’ve been eager to share the practices I learned with anyone who’s game. Over the last few months, I’ve incorporated them into nature writing classes—even online ones—and combined forest bathing skills with writing at a couple of in-person classes at Portland parks.
If you haven’t had the good fortune to experience forest bathing firsthand, the practice is often facilitated by a guide who offers invitations to help connect participants to their senses and surroundings. Many of these have delightful names that clearly describe the intent of the invitation: The Joy of Tiny Things. Embrace the Wind. Mud Squish. The one that inspired me to combine writing with forest bathing, though, is Achieve Nothing. In Your Guide to Forest Bathing
, M. Amos Clifford describes the invitation this way: “Allow yourself no goals, nothing to do, nothing to reach. Don’t even try to achieve not-achieving. Don’t try to not do; just not do. Notice what you are noticing.” When I practice Achieve Nothing, I often end up horizontal, staring up at the rivers of sky created by crown shyness, wonderfully content. I usually have no desire to capture the moment in writing, to jot down the thoughts drifting through me, to get back to the Big Important Poem that felt so urgent only hours ago. I feel aimless in the best possible way, and whenever I do come back to writing, I tend to be more at ease with whatever I create, no matter how messy, unpolished, drafty, or incomplete it inevitably is. After many years of writing toward achievements of various sorts—degrees and publications and jobs and grants and a nebulous desire to be found worthy—writing with no goal and nothing to reach toward has helped me rediscover the joy of being receptive to whatever shows up on the page, even if what shows up is nothing.
Perhaps it’s this Achieve Nothing mindset that’s helped me be more open to combining forest bathing practices with writing, and to accepting whatever results from doing so. One invitation that I’ve adapted and introduced in recent classes is Find a Forest Mentor, which consists of letting your body pull you toward a being—a stone, an animal, a plant, a pool of water—and then introducing yourself, having a conversation, and writing down what the being shares with you. Every time I offer this invitation, I’m afraid that someone is going to call me crazy, to say that there’s no way they’re going to talk to a rock or a fern or a mud puddle. But every time, each person wanders off, guided by their inner radar, and returns later with brilliant guidance shared by a shadow-laced tree limb, a clan of twigs, a mole hole.
The last time I offered the invitation, during a class at Hoyt Arboretum
, I stayed behind in a clearing in a spruce forest while the participants ambled toward their respective mentors. The stump that had been in front of me for the last two hours suddenly had my full attention. Someone had placed a quarter at the center of its rings—a strange offering—and when I leaned in to touch the smooth plane left by a saw, the stump spoke to me in a voice I can only describe as sassy. Here’s an excerpt of the gentle chiding I received:
Perhaps you think of me as gone, as partial, as cut down, hacked to bits, done forever. Perhaps you imagine mostly my absence, what is missing, how I am less than all the tall green wonders swaying around me. But if you touch where I have been torn, I am still sticky with sap, still pulling rain up through my roots, still full of sharp scent. I am still home to soft moss, to lichen, to this spider threading its gossamer on me and to the ant about to enter that trap. I am still as long for this world as you are—longer, in fact—and I don’t mean that to be harsh, only to say: What are you waiting for? What do you want to draw up from the earth and bead on your surface? Who do you want to be a home to?
Maybe the voice I heard was the stump speaking to me. Maybe it was a part of myself that had been shuttered away and felt safe to come out in the presence of that venerable spruce. Even if the latter is the case, isn’t that what any good mentor does—not just give you advice and guidance but also help you discern and value your own wisdom? As I go back to my writing goals, my efforts, my desires to achieve something—which haven’t magically disappeared—I’ll carry the spruce’s questions with me, asking myself again and again not only what I want to make but also who I hope will find shelter in what I create.
Now the Water to My Ankles, Now the Water to My Knees
As summer has arrived in earnest in Portland, I’ve been yearning to be near bodies of water: to swim in rivers, kayak in bays, canoe through sloughs, or just skim my feet through the ocean as it rushes across the sand. Already this month, I’ve risen early for a dunk before the local swimming holes get crowded and stayed out late to watch the moon rise while I bobbed around in the middle of the Willamette. I feel at home on the water, but it wasn’t always this way.
I grew up in New Jersey, visiting the shore in the summers, where the Atlantic was warm and inviting, far gentler than the waters of my current coast. I played in the waves even though I never really learned to swim, and I never felt afraid of the water. But when I was eleven, I was looking after my younger brother while we were at the beach, keeping only half an eye on him, assuming he’d be fine, buoyed by his water wings and innertube. When I looked up from whatever had the greater part of my attention—most likely some combination of collecting iridescent shells and attempting to do handstands in the shallow water—my brother was a small speck receding toward the horizon. I knew I couldn’t tread water well enough to follow him. Aside from panicking, I’m not sure what I did next—memory is funny that way—but I must have found an adult to help us, as my brother is still alive and well in a landlocked state.
After that incident, though, I shied away from open water. In my early teens, my dad and stepmom enrolled me in swim lessons at the local pool, and though I wanted to learn, I was embarrassed at being the oldest child there. (I’m sure I argued that I wasn’t a child, that I was an adult at the ripe old age of thirteen.) I would hover at the edge of the pool, clutching a red kickboard, pulling at the hem of an oversized Bart Simpson t-shirt that I only wore to those lessons to cover my swimsuit, a cloak of modesty or shame. In my mortification, I retained nothing from those lessons except a sense of envy toward all the six-year-olds who were frolicking and splashing and gliding gleefully.
I can’t say what changed in the intervening thirty years that has made me comfortable, if not confident, when I approach water now. Perhaps it’s that I’ve spent more time investigating the harsher aspects of my relationship with water—not only dredging up these memories, but also peering into the murk of a past before I existed. For instance, my mother didn’t teach me to swim when I was young because she couldn’t swim. What conditions made it possible that she grew up in coastal California towns without learning to swim? Was she excluded from swimming, as so many other people of color were? Did she view the Pacific as a vast entity that separated her from ever meeting her ancestors, which is how I sometimes view it? Did she have her own panicked moment, looking after one of her younger siblings while the waves came ashore?
I can’t know the answers to these questions, but I know that when I thread my fingers through the surface of a lake, or when I lift my paddle and spill a rivulet down my forearms, it feels like a caress, not a threat. Whatever ways I’ve been separated from water can be mended, and like any relationship, that mending takes time. In the interim, I’m cautious. I wear a lifejacket. I swim where my feet can touch the stones of the riverbed. I don’t go out on the water alone, often joining other people of color and queer folks for affinity group events. I get to heal and frolic and splash and glide gleefully in the company of other people who might also have complicated histories with water but who nevertheless feel its peace, know its nourishment, want its touch.
The Willamette River, with Portland in a halo of sunset, as viewed from a kayak.
Speaking of affinity groups, a piece I wrote on Oregonians of color in the outdoors is now live on the Oregon Humanities website
and High Country News
. I’m grateful for the Community Storytelling Fellowship
that funded my work on this project, as well as another piece that will appear in Beyond the Margins
on August 19. (If you live in Oregon and are interested in applying for the fellowship, the next round of applications opens in October!)
I also received in the mail my copies of the latest issue of The Missouri Review
, which features a set of poems that won the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize
. It’s strange to see poems that I wrote a year ago, accompanied by a commentary I wrote 6 months ago, and to reflect on how much has changed in my life since either of those moments. Still, I’m proud of those poems, and I’m grateful that they’re out in the wider world now.
This month I’ve read a few books that were solid but that didn’t quite dazzle me, so in lieu of my usual book reviews, I thought I’d offer a few podcasts that have plenty of sparkle and shine. I’ll start with one that I’m sure already has plenty of listeners but that I still can’t stop recommending: Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
. I stumbled across this show in late summer 2020, when I was feeling the full brunt of pandemic-induced isolation and depression, and I listened to it not because I like Conan O’Brien (though I do) but because Jameela Jamil
was the featured guest that week. I was walking the dogs on a still, moonless night, earbuds in, and at some point I realized I was cackling, crowing into the darkness of my neighborhood. Since then, I’ve listened to nearly every new episode, and while the sheer absurdity and silliness of the show never fails to delight me, I come back just as much for the earnest, contemplative, “serious” conversations, like in this recent episode with Steven Yeun
Another trusty go-to is Still Processing
, which just wrapped up its most recent season. As a person who finds myself out of the loop on almost every conversation about pop culture, I appreciate this show for how it gives me entry points to that world that make me feel like I might be able to get the hang of its landscape one day. Partly, it’s the timespan of the references, which include Tina Turner
and Montell Jordan
alongside Lil Nas X
and Olivia Rodrigo
. Partly, it’s the inclusion of writers and literature as gateways to other aspects of culture, like when the show brought on poet/critic Hanif Abdurraqib to discuss how the “skip intro” button
lets us bypass TV theme songs, and in the process changes our relationship to those shows. Did I know any of the current shows that they were talking about? No. Did I check out all the ones that Abdurraqib praised? You bet.
Perhaps it was this foray into pop culture that made me more open to listening when a friend recommended 60 Songs That Explain the ‘90s
. I started with episode 70 (yes, the show has already outlived its name), on Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer,”
and quickly followed that up with shows that explored Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl,”
and “Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.”
Did any of those explain the ‘90s for me? Not exactly. But they did remind me what it was like to sit in the passenger seat of someone’s car on a deliberately long and winding way home from school, listening to music with the sense that it had been written just for me, or how it felt to bring a stack of CDs and tapes into a friend’s dorm room and play our favorite bootleg tracks for each other into the wee hours. The episodes also gave me an abundance of musical context I wouldn’t have otherwise had, like the influence of Prince on Trent Reznor, or of Wu-Tang Clan on Fiona Apple. Who knew? (Apparently, host Rob Harvilla did.)
I’ve only listened to two episodes of my final recommendation, but that’s because only two episodes are out. The Blue Suit
, hosted by poet Shin Yu Pai, debuted on July 11 and explores everyday objects that take on significant meaning. I was especially taken with the first episode
, about a red sequined chador that poet-turned-performance-artist Anida Yoeu Ali donned to provoke passersby to reflect on Islamophobia and racism. The conversation turns up not only how people responded to the elaborate, glamorous garment and the person wearing it, but also nuances about how performance art can communicate in ways that language-based arts cannot. I’m already looking forward to the show’s upcoming stories from musicians, composers, and congresspeople—all of whom are Asian American—and the intricacies they might explore.
Look out for upcoming issues of Southern Indiana Review
and Plant-Human Quarterly
, which will include several of my recent poems, including more of my acrostic-telestic music poems
, an aubade
, and a haibun
. Also, poems on gun culture and grief because neither of those themes seems to be going anywhere.
I’m taking a break from writing classes for the next month, but I’m guiding two outdoor adventures through Wild Diversity for BIPOC and/or LGBTQ folks in the Portland area. On Friday, July 29, 10am-3pm
, I’ll be co-facilitating Nature Feet First
, a day hike along the South Salmon River that includes some invitations to enjoy the water and the forest barefoot. And on Saturday, August 20, 12:00-3:00pm PT
, I’m co-leading Wander & Wonder: A Walk through Oxbow Park
, a gentle guided walk using practices derived from forest bathing. (The latter is an all-ages event open to BIPOC and/or LGBTQ adults and their families). Sliding scale registration for both events is available through Wild Diversity
If you’re already looking forward to fall, Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito
and I will be hosting a Kundiman
reading salon for BIPOC writers at Literary Arts
in Portland on October 21, 6:30-9pm PT
. The theme is “Burden, Bliss, and Balance
,” and we’ll lead a short community discussion and writing exercises to explore these concepts. Readers may sign up for an open mic to share work after. (This free event is open to everyone, but only people who self-identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color will be invited to read.) Light snacks will be provided.
And I’ll be teaching two classes—"Wander & Wonder: Writing in the Woods” and “Serious Play: Surrealist Writing Games”—at Northwest Writers’ Weekend, November 3 – November 6
in Port Orchard, WA. Registration
for the full weekend includes opportunities to participate in creative nonfiction, cross-genre, and songwriting classes
Other opportunities I recommend:
For BIPOC Youth (Grades K-5) in the Portland Area:
People of Color Outdoors
is offering a series of free five-day programs for young students and their families. Guardians at Whitaker Ponds introduces BIPOC youth to the wildlife along the Columbia Slough, teaches them how to paddle, and guides them toward stewardship. Each day includes healthy food, community, adventures, and learning. Upcoming programs start on July 25, August 1, August 8, and August 15,
and run 9am-1pm.
Children must be accompanied by an adult. Interested? Contact Executive Director Pamela Slaughter at 503-349-1061 to learn more.
For Portland-Area Early-Career Job Seekers:
has an opening for a short-term internship for August and September 2022.
The in-person position is 8-10 hours a week, with a stipend of $1,000, and job responsibilities will focus on processing applications for Oregon Literary Fellowships and Oregon Book awards. Applications
are considered on a rolling basis.
For Oregon Writers:
Oregon Literary Fellowships
are intended to help Oregon writers at all stages of their careers initiate, develop, or complete literary projects in poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, drama, and young readers’ literature. You do not need to be a published author to apply!
I had the honor of being awarded one of these fellowships several years ago, and it not only provided me with funding but also introduced me to a writing community that has been foundational in finding my roots in Oregon. The application deadline
is August 5
. (Fellowships are also awarded to support Oregon’s independent publishers and small presses, if you know a press in need of some financial assistance!)
is accepting submissions for their Fall/Winter 2022 issue on the theme, "Underground." For this issue, they’re interested in stories about all things hidden and buried, as well as the things that literally and metaphorically lie beneath the surface: myths of underworlds and abysses, covert movements past and present, and everything under us, whether that’s earth, pipes, bones, worms, roots, or rocks. They’re also looking for nonfiction pieces that unearth little-known subcultures, clandestine organizations, forgotten histories, deep archaeology and geology, urban infrastructure, and occult motives. Check out the magazine by signing up for a free subscription
, read the full call for submissions
, and send your pitch or completed draft to firstname.lastname@example.org
by August 20
. All contributors are paid between $500 and $1000, depending on the length and complexity of the piece.
For Artists of Any Medium, Career Stage, and Location:
The Dots Between
is a financial coaching program for artists who are motivated to address their financial practices, nurture their relationship with money, and establish the structures that will support their long-term fiscal health. The program is administered virtually for six-months and offered at no cost. I was part of the 2022 spring cohort
, and it’s helped me immensely with discerning and meeting my financial goals and helping me investigate my thorny relationship with money. The deadline to apply for the next cohort
is September 1
for a program starting on October 15, and the next iteration will also include legal and tax workshops. If you decide to apply, please list me as a referral on the application, as referrals from previous participants are more likely to be selected.
For Portland-Area BIPOC Interested in Mindfulness, Nature, and/or Movement:
I met Marcus and Miranda Lattimore at a Forest Bathing & Writing class and was blown away by their insights and contributions to the class. As it turns out, they run Zen in Black Skin
, a mobile wellness collective providing creative classes, workshops, and other programs
to communities of color. They currently offer outdoor yoga classes, a liberation literacy club, a photography club, and several pop-up events.
For LGBTQ+ Folks Seeking Work in Outdoor & Environmental Fields:
Pattie Gonia, my favorite environmentalist drag queen, launched a free Queer Outdoor & Environmental Job Board
last year, but I’ve only been introduced to it recently. If you’re looking for work—or if you’re part of an outdoor/environmental organization that wants more queer staff—check out the board, which includes postings from across the U.S.
If you’ve got an opportunity you’d like me to include in a future newsletter, please let me know.