Friday, April 30, 2010

Snow still in April

We walk through the woods and trails; the fresh, late spring storm has blanketed the trails again. Suddenly Abbey, the nine year old dog, is acting like a two year old puppy. She follows a smell back and forth, then I see the grey-white hare, jumping along; it must be old, too, because Daisy would’ve caught it for the speed.

I call Abbey back and her hind legs are shaking. She has that sad puppy-dog look that Labradors have and then sits. She never sits on a walk. She starts licking her front leg over and over. After nine years with this dog, I know what this means – she going to puke.

And she does.

I don’t mind this snow at the end of April. I wish it was warmer so I could bike but I don’t have any upcoming triathlons or bike races so I’m okay with it all. It’s actually quite beautiful out.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thoughts on attending the AWP Writers Conference in Denver – April 2010

I attended the three day conference, going to every panel that had anything to do with landscape, place, western writing.
landscape, place, western writing – These words mean everything to me. As an easterner, wanting to write about the west that I love, I need to know and understand what it means to live and be western. I learned so much about things I needed to know.

I wonder when this need, this desire, to know about the west started.

I awake in the middle of the night: It started in 8th grade social studies class. The class was assigned Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: Mr. Stevens social studies class at Rye Junior High. It was 1984, the year I moved from Plattsburgh, New York to Rye, New Hampshire.

In New York I was not a good student. I cared more about my friends and boys. I didn’t do homework and didn’t care about school. Months before leaving, I brought home a kitten and thought I could hide it from my parents. The first night I had the kitten, it was more important to go to a high school football game with my friends than to try to keep the kitten hidden in my closet.

That night is now in the family story archive and still makes me cringe when family members bring it up. I got all C’s on my report card and a C- in Mr. Burdeau’s social studies class.

Moving was a chance to start over. I decided that I wanted to be smart, and learn, and go to college. I got to prove myself when I got the first reading assignment - Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

I was completely enthralled by Mr. Stevens and history; western history, Native American History. I got an A-. I couldn’t stop reading about the Native Americans, about mountain men, and the pioneers. That is how it started.

Every morning and afternoon I walked one mile to the conference in downtown Denver. The first morning I walked defensively, the way a woman, alone, is taught to walk in a city. Be aware of people. Be aware of your surroundings. Be on guard. After nine hours of listening to writers talk about writing, I walked back to my hotel differently. I thought about the writers, academia, of publishing books. I dreamed of being a presenter and encouraging other writers, like the writers did for me today.

I walked past the South Platte River, past the rail yards, and noticed a bird flying down from the bridge to the river. I couldn’t identify the bird and wished that I could. I fell asleep that night as the trains rumbled in the distance thinking about the writing life.

The next morning I walked the same path, past the sun blaring through iron fencing, and Coors Field. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains causing the bridge to vibrate. I thought about everything. I wondered what will happen when I’m away from this landscape, and the west. I wondered what my life would be like without the aridity, mountains, and trains. I realized, that morning, in the city, I am in love with this land and with the stories from this place.

I am drawn to people who live in hard-to-live places. I want to know the stories of their failures and successes. I want to write the stories of survival and loss and these stories will take place in a landscape of sagebrush and tumbleweed.

That day, I also learned that who I am and where I live means everything.
In a panel celebrating the writing contributions of William Kittredge, Rick Bass said to us, and him:
“You’ve never forgotten where you come from”
“You’ve make a generation think harder, deeper of what it means to be a westerner.”

I learned to write authentic stuff of where you are.
It was three great days.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Way It Is - William Stafford

Kim Stafford talked about his father and writing his father's biography, Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. He mentions his father's Poem, The Way It Is. This is the poem that helped him, as he constantly revised the structure (and table of contents) of the book.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

~ William Stafford ~

Kim Stafford told us during the panel "writing biography" at the AWP conference, about his father's advice about writing: "Do the thing that is most alive." I take this to mean this is what we as writers, should write about. I will do this.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dirt Roads and Fame

I’ve been watching the TV show Fame the last few nights. I remember watching it as a kid every week. I just loved watching the dancing and acting but I don’t remember ever wanting to be a dancer or an actor; but loved the show.

When I think back to being a kid, I never had a clear picture of what I wanted to do with my life. I watched a lot of TV and I read a lot of books. I’m jealous of the people who knew in high school exactly what they wanted to be. In high school I like sports, played some and watched basketball, football and hockey on TV. I think I wanted to be an athletic trainer at some point but I didn’t have the passion that the characters in Fame had.

Watching it now, I feel the desire to be someone and do something, like they had to be dancers and actors. I’m almost 40 and I finally have a feeling of what I want to be and how I see myself in the future.

My aunt Nancy told me on her visit last year that I’m more assertive than I’ve ever been. I don’t think I ever saw a path for myself until now. Now that I have my direction, I ask for what I want and do what I want more than ever.

I’m finally taking the advice I’ve shelled out for years: no one is going to take care of you other than you.

I want to write. I want to tell stories.

Today in writer’s group I read my story, Dirt Roads, about living on the dirt roads in Killington Vermont and all the people I met; and about runaway dogs. My fellow writers told me they loved the description of dirt on the dashboard and the characters on the dirt road. I love telling stories about Vermont. It’s was such a difficult time but I have two lifelong friends; this is my story of how they became my friends.

I hope a literary magazine will say yes to it.