Happy equinox! I’m writing to you from a new home, from the first weeks of a new job, and from the jumbled but jubilant emotional space that goes along with those changes. Lately, when people ask me how I’m doing, I’ve started responding with chaotic good. (Apologies, D&D enthusiasts. I know that’s not how that term’s supposed to be used, but it feels apt.) Yes, lots of beautiful things are happening. I’ve been writing my syllabi while sitting in a hammock, halfheartedly shooing my dogs from eating all the tomatoes in the garden, and gawking at the surprising abundance of moose- and rabbit-shaped topiaries in my neighborhood. But between juggling one too many obligations and sinking into back-to-school anxiety dreams about forgetting my locker combination or getting lost in byzantine hallways, I’ve been shorter on truly restful time than I’d like.
But it’s a new season, with its many reminders that I can always begin again, and I’m taking its cue to prioritize what brings me peace and to tip the scales back in favor of ease. Whether today marks the beginning of autumn or spring for you, I hope you’re finding time to observe the balance between darkness and light and to celebrate equanimity wherever it shows up in your life.
For much of my life, I thought of myself not as a writer, but as a poet. Metaphorically, I thought of myself not as a marathon runner, but a sprinter—someone who could write books, sure, but only by creating something that could be finished in a week or so, then writing another one, and another, and another until—happy accident!—I had enough poems for a book. The idea of writing something that I knew at the outset would take months or years to complete seemed daunting and unwieldy, and just thinking about it would make me feel like the runner in the old Gatorade commercial
, staggering and collapsing like a boneless blob just before reaching the finish line.
This year, two writing projects have tested my endurance, and I’ve realized recently that it’s not that I don’t have the stamina or strength to keep going—it’s that I lose interest. This happened even with the community storytelling project I’ve been writing through a fellowship from Oregon Humanities
, which surprised me because the project is centered on so many things I deeply value: the power and knowledge of people of color, the healing and health of the more-than-human-world, the intersections of social and environmental justice. But late this summer, as I began working on my third piece for the project, I didn’t feel fired up. I felt bored.
Of course, I still scheduled interviews and started my research, trying to push through the boredom. I told myself that it wasn’t boredom at all but the result of an overtaxed nervous system, and that as soon as I got through moving and orientation at my job, I’d feel excited again. And as I met with the folks I was interviewing, I did
feel excited. Everyone I spoke with was generous in sharing their wisdom and stories, and while I was talking with them, I’d think, yes, this is why I wanted to do this project
. But as I’d type up my notes and try to formulate them into a narrative, I found myself losing steam. To be clear, it wasn’t the subject or the people that I lost interest in—it was my craft. I felt like I was repeating the earlier articles I’d written, and I couldn’t seem to find a new angle or approach that would honor the stories people had shared with me.
In poetry, in stories, in lyric essays, I hardly ever seem to have this problem. Heck, in poetry, I can worry the same idea, endlessly obsessing over it, probing my curiosity to find a dozen different ways to write about the same event or relationship or memory. (This is how the happy accidents of books occur—write enough about the same obsession, and suddenly a manuscript starts to form out of thin air!) But with journalism, I’m bound by what people share with me. I can’t just start speculating or adding fantastic elements or mixing in some elaborate poetic constraint to keep my craft-brain engaged. So, what’s a writer to do?
For me, the key’s been going back to sprinting. If I can’t quite get the energy up to figure out how to write a whole 4000-word article in a way that feels fresh and exciting to me, instead I’ve been trying to write, in the most compelling way I can, the six or seven sentences that constitute my interview questions. The prose of those questions might not be dazzling, but I’ve refined them over and over until they each ask something that I truly don’t know the answer to. They abandon the thematic ideas that I brought into the writing project and instead ask about a variety of threads that I know will be complicated to weave together. They’ve elicited stories about interviewee’s ancestors, about what’s shaken and rebuilt their confidence as leaders, and about unresolved questions in their work. They leave me with a plethora of possibility for how I might shape these stories into a single, coherent article, and in the process, they rekindle the part of me that needs to puzzle something out through the act of writing.
I did say earlier that there were two
projects that have tested my endurance, and I’ve been tinkering with how to take my discoveries from this journalism project and apply them to the other challenging one: my memoir. The sprinting metaphor has been helpful there, too, as I’ve been so overwhelmed by the thought of trying to tell a Great Big Story that, for a while, it was hard to write anything at all for that project. But, through a residency with the Independent Publishing Resource Center
, I’ve been toying with the question: What if it’s not
a big story? What if it’s many little ones? I’ve been writing tiny memoirs, ones that I can slowly compose on a letterpress or bind together in a handmade book.
I’m not far into this process yet, but already I feel reenergized. Especially with a project that touches on so many painful experiences, it’s been refreshing to find this way to invite play in by using forms that are so tactile, that shake me out of my writer’s ego and place me back in my body. There’s something wonderful, too, about working with these media that are meant to be created in limited editions. The IPRC has so many resources for producing beautiful zines and prints that can be quickly reproduced, but I’m drawn to ways of making that are laborious and time-consuming. The process makes it hard to think about grandiose dreams of publication or an audience. All that matters is the next cut or stitch or bit of type. The memoir ceases to be miles of road unfurling out in front of me and narrows to something as short as a single inch.
I can’t say I won’t ever get weary again, won’t decide at some point that I’d rather sit for a spell than keep running. But for the moment, the wind is at my back, and that’s enough.
Peace Will Guide the Planets and Love Will Steer the Stars
During college and grad school, I held many jobs to cover all the expenses that loans and grants and scholarships did not. I worked at a library, a music store, a donut shop, a group home, a bookstore, a golf course. But my favorite jobs were the ones that had no location, that landed on my plate almost at random. These inevitably started with a conversation where I revealed to someone that I dabbled in one hobby or another, and by the end of our chat, they’d offered to pay me to turn my trifling into something quasi-professional. This is how, for a time, I became an astrologer.
It began with a friend who asked me to draw up a natal chart, along with an explanation of the various placements and aspects I observed, as a birthday gift for her sister. This was in the years before anyone could type their information into a website and algorithms would spit out lovely charts and piles of claims about what it means to be a Cancer rising or to have Aries in your seventh house. I’d been studying astrology—well, “studying” in the most dilettantish way possible—from books for years, and I thought it couldn’t hurt to give it a go. I loved mapping out what the sky looked like at the moment when this stranger—my friend’s sister—was born. Equally, I loved analyzing what I noticed: the distribution of planets among different elements (earth, air, fire, water), the clustering of them in a handful of houses, the number of planets in cardinal signs versus mutable or fixed ones.
I compiled it all in a binder, placed a bow on it, and delivered it to my friend. When she shared it with her sister, I suspect the birthday girl was overwhelmed by my piles of pages, which I imagine looked more like an administrative audit than a mystical guide. But people kept asking to have their charts read, so I kept writing them, always with this methodical approach. Astrology became a routine part of my life—so routine that I open this newsletter with references to signs and seasons, so routine that no matter what manner of esoteric conversation about moon signs and their meanings I stumble into, I can hold my own. But despite how much of my life circles around the planets, after all these years, I still wouldn’t quite say I believe in astrology, though I find it fascinating. (Blame that on the sun in Libra in my sixth house: smitten with the beauty of the system, but of at least two minds about its plausibility.)
I often joke like this about attributing some aspect of my behavior to something in my natal chart, but the truth is, I don’t really think my combined desire for and discomfort with being in the spotlight is due to my Leo moon. And I doubt that my love of the arts is intricately tied to the bizarre number of planets in my chart housed in signs that are ruled by Venus. (Four, plus my rising sign and north node… the odds of which, for those of you who aren’t both astrology buffs and math geeks, is only slightly better than 1 in 50,000).
If I’m such a skeptic, why do I still pay attention to astrology, all these years after websites and apps and memes put my nascent chart business out to pasture? Because astrology makes me attend to the stars and the planets, even when I can’t see them. Wait long enough, and all the planets pass through the various houses and signs, and as each one does, it reminds me to reflect on parts of my life that I otherwise might avoid. Each year, when Mercury shows up in my second house of material possessions, it’s an opportunity for me to revisit how I communicate about money, which has always been hard for me. Or when any planet passes through my twelfth house, it’s an excuse to reconsider how I handle endings, which is usually… poorly. (Blame that on me having only two planets in mutable signs—the odds of which are roughly 1 in 100.)
And this season, as the sun returns to Libra, my sixth house, occupying the same position where it was when I was born (okay, science lovers—as the earth orbits so we’re in the same position relative to the sun as we were when I was born), it’s a reminder to review how I show up and shine (that’s the sun bit), how I find balance (that’s the Libra bit), and how small routines add up over time (that’s the sixth house bit… and perhaps the root of that meandering marathon metaphor earlier in this newsletter). Whether you set your course by the stars or regard astrology as so much hogwash, I hope you find your own small routines for checking in and noting how you’ve changed since last month, last year, or last Saturn return.
In celebration of the equinox, Plant-Human Quarterly
just published their latest issue, which includes two poems about, among other things, my relationship to botanical beings. Check them out here
, or read this piece
by fellow Portland wordsmith Felicity Fenton. While you’re there (or if you need a break from all this reading), take a gander at the beautiful artwork by Candela Murillo.
This month, as I’ve been gearing up for teaching my first composition classes in several years, I’ve foregone most of my reading for pleasure in favor of brushing up on the latest in comp theory, reviewing potential course texts, and poring over articles on ungrading and on building meaningful relationships via remote learning. Although the courses are “just” writing classes, I was hired to teach both writing and women’s and gender studies, and I find it impossible not to bring both of those hats into any class. So, a lot of the course focuses on the intersection of language and literacy with various social identities and systems of power. How will it go over? Time will tell. In the meantime, if you’re looking to take the abridged, non-credit, independent study version of the class, here are a couple of favorites from my syllabus: April Baker-Bell’s Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy
, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider
, Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.
I’ll save the deep dive into these and just say, if you’ve ever pondered the question, How do I dismantle White Anglo linguistic supremacy?
, this trinity offers a pretty solid starting point for exploring the answers.
If you were reading this newsletter back in January, you may remember that I was holed up in a cabin in snowy central Oregon at a residency at the Caldera Arts Center
. Three poems I wrote while I was there will be out soon in New Letters
. (And if you’re an artist looking for private space and a stipend, and if spending part of your winter in the foothills of the Cascades sounds appealing, applications for the next round of residencies
is open until October 3rd
I’m also excited to share that I’ve got a piece on bear grass (aka soap grass, aka quip-quip, aka Xerophyllum tenax
) in Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry
, which is available for pre-order from Mountaineers Books
or your favorite local bookstore.
My fall online class through Hugo House—Embodied & Mindful Writing
—starts in just under two weeks. By combining writing prompts with skills derived from embodiment and mindfulness practices—including trauma-informed yoga, mindful movement, forest bathing, meditation, and breathing—we'll bring our awareness to sensation and emotion, for the benefit of both our writing and our well-being. You'll leave with a set of techniques that can be used to regulate stress, pique your curiosity, and bring more of your body and senses into your writing. No prior experience with writing is necessary, and practices are inclusive of all minds and bodies. The class meets Wednesdays, October 5-October 26, 7:10-9:10pm PT
. Registration and scholarship information is available here
Also this fall, Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito
and I will be hosting a Kundiman reading salon
for BIPOC writers at Literary Arts
in Portland on Friday, 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.
If you’re looking for a writing retreat, 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 also includes room, board, and opportunities to participate in creative nonfiction, cross-genre, and songwriting classes
And if you’d like to really dig into serious play, I’ll be offering another six-week Surrealist Games for Surreal Times
class this fall! The class meets in-person at Literary Arts
, Tuesdays, November 8-December 13, 5:30-7:30pm PT.
Surrealist games are practices for circumventing our rational, reasoning mind to unlock unconscious or seemingly irrational forms of creativity. By using play, surprise, chance, and collaboration, we’ll write in ways that tap into our dreams, our imagination, and our intuition—the extraordinary spaces that help us move through challenging times. The class will introduce a variety of surrealist practices: automatic writing, chain writing, found poems, collage, inquiry, provocation, reinvention, experiments with objects, and techniques drawn from visual art. No prior experience with writing is necessary, but full COVID vaccination or a negative test result is! Register here
, or apply here for the access rate
(60% off class tuition).
Other opportunities I recommend:
For Portland-Area Folks Who’d Like to Take a Free Writing or Literature Course:
is looking for liaisons for their in-person classes
. Liaisons commit to being at every class meeting, being the first to arrive and the last to leave, and performing other light duties. In exchange for these responsibilities, Literary Arts covers your full tuition for the class or seminar. Apply here
to be a liaison.
For Portland- and Salem-Area Tree Huggers:
In a previous newsletter
, I wrote a bit about my experience as a Crew Leader with Friends of Trees
. If that piqued your interest—or if you just like playing in the dirt—and you want to lead people in planting trees in parks and neighborhoods, they’re currently recruiting for their October trainings for Crew Leaders. Details are available here.
If that feels like too much of a commitment, they also welcome folks of all ages and abilities to volunteer as planters, bike planters, and truck drivers. Learn more
or register for an event here
For Portland-Area Folks Interested in Ethnic Studies and Education
A few seats are open in the Critical Educators of Color Pathway, a 3-course sequence on education, ethnic studies, and social justice offered through Portland Community College. Classes meet in person in Hillsboro and throughout the Portland Metro Area; however, you can take the courses remotely and still be in the program. The program offers stipends each term (fall, winter, spring) for each student in the cohort, and you don't have to commit to becoming a teacher to join. More information and applications are available at www.criticaleducators.org.
For Portland-Area Folks Looking for a Co-Working Space:
Have trouble focusing at home? Jittery from buying coffee all day just to work from a coffee shop? Miss having in-person co-workers to talk about astrology with during your lunch break? Come work from Wild Diversity’s
beautiful new building this fall! They’re offering sliding scale ($5-20) drop-in days Monday-Thursday from 9 am-5 pm. The office is located on 82nd Ave in NE Portland with easy access from I-84. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
to snag a spot!
For Portland-Area Artists:
The RACC Arts3C Grant Program
is open to Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas County applicants who are creating and sharing arts and culture programming. Funds of $1,000-$5,000 are available to support artistic projects, programming, or presentations, or internal capacity, such as operations, personal or professional development, or business investment. Apply
through the RACC Opportunity Portal by September 28, 2022 by 5pm (with announcements by December 30, 2022).
Not looking for support for your own project? RACC is also hiring contractors to serve as reviewers for the Arts3C grant applications in November/December 2022 and April/May 2023. These individuals will read, score, and discuss proposals for the current grant opportunity and recommend a slate of awards to the RACC team. Reviewers are practicing artists and folks who have experience managing or designing arts programming and/or running an arts-based business. The Community Panel Reviewer application is scheduled to close on Friday, September 30 at noon
. The full role description and application for the Community Reviewer position are available here
If you’ve got an opportunity you’d like me to include in a future newsletter, please let me know.