Happy Halloween from Montpelier!
May The Great Pumpkin grant you autumnal sights and sounds and smells
for a few more weeks.
Happy Halloween from Montpelier!
May The Great Pumpkin grant you autumnal sights and sounds and smells
for a few more weeks.
Last Wednesday, I had the great honor of hearing the stories of two Hibakusha (atom bomb survivors), Shigeko Sasamori and Yakuaki Yamashita. I am so very grateful they traveled all the way from their homes in Mexico and LA to visit Vermont.
What an incredible gift they gave us—sharing their stories and experiences, reliving the horror of witnessing and surviving the nuclear blast.
I do not know what it is like to live through such violence, and yet Ms. Sasamori and Mr. Yamashita gave me a glimpse of it last night, and even then, it is difficult for me to fully imagine the numbness, the fear, the sorrow, the tragic loss, the pain, the devastation, the discrimination, the destitution, the sickness, the shame, the desperation, the courage it takes to live every day with these memories.
This may have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, to have heard eyewitness accounts from the final generation of HIbakusha. Their work is ever more important these days when fewer and fewer stories are being told, and the population of survivors is dwindling.
We must remember their past, in order to ensure history does not repeat. Nuclear warfare affects not only those who survived the horrors but also the global environment and all people born into this world thereafter.
We must educate the youth that nuclear weapons have an unacceptable impact on human beings. So far, the organizations that put on the event last night have brought Hibakusha stories to over 40,000 students in the lower 48 states. Many students had never heard anything about the atomic bomb in their entire educational career.
As Yakuaki-san said, “Don’t hate anyone. Hate creates another hate…Your lives are beautiful.”
It took 45 seconds for the bomb to fall from the airplane to the city below. Take 45 seconds today to think about all you are grateful for.
For one, I’m grateful to have heard these remarkable and brave Hibakusha Stories in person last night. I will remember them for the rest of my life.
Together, if we all do our part with the unique skills we possess, we CAN eliminate nuclear weapons and work toward peace.
You can join the peaceful movement by visiting icanw.org and sign up for their newsletter to keep up to date on the Nuclear Ban Treaty and discover ways to take action.
Love widely. Peace for all. 💜
*Why did I write this, and why am I sharing this with you? Chewing gum has been a sort of crutch for me in the past, in times of stress, or when I was very sick and found tiny ways to avoid eating real food and real calories. Currently, in my three-week module class at VCFA, we are talking all about vulnerability; asking questions about why vulnerability is scary, but necessary; what’s the difference between personal & professional vulnerability (and how that line is often blurred in writing); how do you know when to share vulnerable details and when not to, etc. I suppose we are all vulnerable as human beings to becoming addicted to such-and-such thing. Science backs it up that it takes about 66 days to form a habit, whether “good” or “bad,” if you choose to assign such labels. I’m proud of my work to quit chewing gum, and though it may or may not sound difficult to you, it definitely was not easy for me, and it’s so freeing to say that. To be honest. To work hard to overcome an act that was controlling me. Whatever your “gum” is, I believe you can free yourself of it, too.
How do I even begin to explain this past weekend—in which I threw my belongings into a small bag and hitched it to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts for a Delicious Movement Workshop with the legendary Japanese dancer, Eiko Otake.
I first came across Otake’s work while researching Hibakusha Stories – the stories of the atomic bomb survivors. When I found out that she was professionally trained in Butoh by one of the dance form’s founders, Kazuo Ohno, AND that she was teaching only three hours away from me, I knew I needed to attend the workshop and learn everything I could from her.
One of my characters in my novel is a Butoh dancer, and I took this weekend as an opportunity to understand what it feels like for him to dance—which is one of the yummiest things about being a writer—exploring my many selves and interests for the sake of “researching” a character.
The Delicious Movement Workshop was located at Earthdance, an artist-run retreat center, which provides dance, somatic, and interdisciplinary arts training, with a focus on sustainability, social justice, and community. Set in the middle of the woods, we breathed green tree oxygen, ate fresh vegetarian food, and helped each other with chores and clean-up. For three days, I had a home away from home with the kindest of strangers.
In total, there were 22 of us, ranging in ages from 23 to late 50s. We were mostly artists (visual, dance, writing). A few dancers had worked with Eiko in the past, but for many of us, this was our first time, and we were in awe.
Delicious Movement Moments
Since there’s no way to truly replicate the experience of this weekend without demonstrating each activity sprawled out on the floor, I’m going to try my best to explain in words a few of my favorite moments of the weekend.
The Paper Dance*
Walk around the studio space with a blank piece of paper in your hands—don’t let it make a sound. Then, make as much sound as you can. Get comfortable with your paper.
Find a partner. Sit down and place both of your papers on the floor between you. Communicate (without talking) who will begin. Engage with the paper any way you like. Make it clear when each interaction is complete. Take turns. As you grow comfortable with each other and build trust, begin to use each other’s paper—become one flowing unit. Move, attempting to hit an “end” of the dance.
Next, we move individually, reenacting the paper’s journey. What does it feel like to be that paper? As half the group begins to move as paper, the other half of the group eventually comes over to try to calm us (the papers) down. Our task as paper, Eiko said, was to resist the people.
Later, I reflected on how I approached “moving” like paper. As the paper, I felt a deep history of abuse circulating throughout my fibers—feeling wanted for a spark of a moment, a tease, used only for a certain purpose that does not include everlasting love—then unwanted, mistreated, crumpled, thrown around. How often, I realized, we take advantage of each other, our environments, our everyday objects. When the person came to “calm me down,” I had so much of that attention I had been craving as paper, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted it, or I didn’t trust that it was an ephemeral desire to connect. I was slow to trust—I think the paper really did want to be loved and treated well. It didn’t want to get hurt again.
It’s pretty incredible that I was able to inhabit this deep root of humanity through embodying an inanimate object. But it’s not too abstract if you really consider how we could ask the same questions on the circumstances of being an adult: “What does it mean to have a wrinkle? For someone to come along and care for you? What is it like to care about a thing that’s not human?” The Paper Dance is a terrific “icebreaker” move. As Eiko told us, ‘You won’t know much more about the person internally, but you will have spent some time seeing and being seen.’
*Keep in mind that this was the very first activity of the workshop. On Day One! Yes, it only became more intense from here.
Body as a Landscape
Throughout the weekend, our bodies were not human shapes. Instead, we took on the landscape of the earth. Our torsos were mountains, our hands were gardens, blooming. We were growing comfortably, yet asymmetrically. Moving subtly, with purpose, like the earth spinning on its axis. We were twists of air.
At one moment, we were to find a partner, a fellow mountain, and begin to touch. We were equipped with the language of “hissing” in case we ever felt unsafe or too uncomfortable with a touch. At one point, I wasn’t sure which part of my partner I was touching. But then I discovered the watery elements of her hair, the ridge of her knuckle, and I could have stayed there for much longer. I’m intrigued with this new way of encountering another body, another life form. I hadn’t known I could connect with an unfamiliar body in this way, with so much ease.
We All Come From Water
In this exercise, we are sacks of water moving downstream. The river is the dance studio floor. Everyone lying on the floor is now a sack of water. Drip, Eiko says. Drop your water. Let it go. The water always comes. It will never run out. It comes in and goes out endlessly. We all come from water, she reminds us. We come from the sea. The same salt content. Think of that the next time you disagree with someone, we are all water. Our water may just be different, or springs from a different source. We close our eyes and move/survey/flow in a slowed, embryonic state, swimming downstream, through this stubborn molasses river. Time does not exist here…5…10…20 minutes may have elapsed. The only sound is that of the live water sacks around me breathing, rippling. And then, Eiko’s voice emerges from the deep: “Begin to calm yourself.” When she claps her hands, we are awakened from the hypnosis. The world a blur. I am reborn every time I open my eyes.
Finding Your Aesthetic
We had several chances throughout the workshop to split into groups and “watch each other” perform. The point of “watching” was not to critique what was good art or bad art. Instead, Eiko reminded us that every time we have the opportunity to observe art, we are finding our own aesthetic. This is an important lesson that can apply to all fields of art. For example, it’s not the performer or writer’s job to entertain you specifically. It’s your responsibility as a viewer or consumer to hold your criticism and use your reaction to the artist’s work to help narrow and define what your personal aesthetic and interests are. Every time we engage with a piece of art, whether it’s to our liking or not, is useful in assisting us to better understand ourselves.
Gratitude and Growth
This weekend has been one of the most singular transformative moments in my life, and I do not know if I will ever again feel the way I did through these exercises with Eiko. I am filled so deeply with gratitude for Eiko Otake, the generosity of Earthdance and the land of the Mohican (People of the Waters That Are Never Still), and the other sacks of water with whom I had the honor of sharing my dances, my surveillances, my discoveries.
Learn more about Eiko’s tenets of movement by reading her Delicious Movement Manifesto and her Personal Manifesto of an Artist as a Cultural Activist.
Gah…in my move back to Vermont, I’ve really fallen down on the blog job. So here I am, attempting to redeem myself with a mostly photo essay (with some words, too).
You know you’re back in Montpeculiar when the trees warn you they are for panda purposes only:
Last Wednesday, I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which was a delightfully magical film about the life of Fred Rogers. It encapsulated an era so dearly. When the credits started, we as a collective theater not-so-furtively wiped our soggy eyes and stepped back out into the mundane Main Street dusk. It was so bizarre to leave that theater and go on with our lives, partly in that Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood has never had a reboot, has never been overtly commercialized, has never transformed into a pop culture consumerist ploy. It is so wholesomely what it was for the time that it had: a dedicated space and time for the sole purpose of engaging, encouraging, educating, and loving children. Please do go out and see this film, if you have a chance! (Of course, writing this post did jog my memory to the time I found this mug for sale at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.)
What I’ve been reading : In my latest trip to the downtown library, my eyes were apparently larger than my reading stomach can handle in a two-week checkout period. Nevertheless. she persists! Stack includes The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and yes, studying up on the Grammar Bible itself: The Chicago Manual of Style.
Through pure spontaneity, I hitched a ride with two friends last weekend to attend the 10th Annual Bookstock Literary Festival,where I stocked up on books by Gabriel García Márquez and Maira Kalman (I’m having a bit of a Maira Kalman moment lately; totally enamored), sampled Red Kite Candy’s salted caramels, sat like a fangirl student in the first row of Robin MacArthur‘s reading of Heart Spring Mountain, and heard the legendary Eileen Myles read (and share a story about their false tooth.) What an absolutely incredible poet performer!
On the writing front: I’ve been on a bit of a flash fiction writing stint, thanks to the photo prompts provided by Midwestern Gothic. (I was a finalist for their 2015 Flash Fiction Prize here with this photo below!)
I find that flash fiction and photos pair so naturally together, because a photo in its essence is a bound moment in time. Yes, in that moment, the future and past seep in, stored in the collective memory and experience of that place and its people. But there’s a border cropping the photo to its size, just as flash fiction word limits (e.g. 500 words) imparts a border on the told story. Which details are seen and which details are just outside of the border are decisions that have to be made by the keen eye of the writer—almost as if we are writing our story with the disciplined filter of a camera lens.
This weekend, a few of us from the cohort are heading down to a rural New Hampshire camp for a two-day homemade writing retreat. At least writing is the goal…but the mountains, the lakes, the trails are always calling.
It’s my final week before heading back to Vermont to ride out the rest of the summer until the new semester begins in September. Can’t believe it’s already Year 2 of my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts!
This past weekend was Trey’s birthday, so the wild rumpus included watching the World Cup, Cammie’s introduction to the world of Fortnite, Indian food, riverside bike rides, and culminated in the game that Sherlock and Watson play in The Sign of Three where you write a celebrity’s name on a slip of paper, attach it to the other player’s head, and then ask questions to help you figure out the name attached to your own forehead. We literally spent hours playing this game, which goes to show either how dedicated or completely loony we are.
I’ve been enjoying writing some flash fiction pieces (thanks to Midwestern Gothic!) to break up the slow-going thesis. I did recently watch Shohei Imamura’s A Man Vanishes, which gave me great insight into the phenomenon of Japanese johatsu (the 100,000 citizens a year who “disappear”) and the people who are left behind. I find that delving into other mediums greatly jumpstarts my inspiration to continue longform projects.
Here are all the delicious books I’ve been reading lately: Blindness by José Saramago, The Space Between by Kali VanBaale, Hiroshima by John Hersey, Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (Of a Crazy World) by Ingrid Schaffner, and The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.
I have this strange desire to rearrange all of my books by color. Maybe because I’ve always wanted to tuck a rainbow into my bedroom corner and give it a welcome home. (Note to myself: turn my books into a rainbow one day.)
Yesterday, I volunteered at a Creative Writing workshop put on by my undergraduate program. I was a student of the Residential College at University of Michigan, which is a small, liberal arts learning community heavily focusing on the arts, foreign languages, and activism. I knew that the workshop, intended for 15 incoming freshmen, was going to be informal and simply a way for them to explore the major and opportunities at the Residential College. Still, as I walked through the campus, my heart beat the same pitter-patter of three slammed cuppas. (I was later humbled to find out that the other facilitators, some who were long-time professors, were also battling a few nerves of their own). After introducing myself as an alum of the Creative Writing program, I read the first few pages of my currently unpublished novella called All the Facts You Need To Know About My Mother’s Oil Spill (Side note: I’ve been sending my manuscript to a few novella contests, but I’d love some advice on potential publishers who’d be interested in a story that is part mystery, part fabulist tale, part coming-of-age exploration, part queer love story, part environmental credo, and illuminated in the style of House of Leaves, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, and Bats of the Republic, meaning it combines integrated text and images, innovative typography, lists and asides and sticky notes and flyers, and “found scraps of writing.”) I love reading aloud, but find that I am often nervous about sharing my own work verbally with the world. However, I feel such a kinship to this particular character I’ve created, that it wasn’t me up there on stage reading. I was her, the great Miss Sylvia Mariner. The response from the students was definitely encouraging — one young lady even gave me her email and asked how she could read the rest of the story because she needed to know what happens next, which is pretty much the greatest thing a reader could tell an author. For the next part of the workshop, we had the students read Sandra Cisneros’ evocative vignette called “My Name,” which is really an excerpt from her novel, The House on Mango Street. The students then tried their hand at writing a piece about their own name, its meaning, how they think people see them, what they are reminded of by their name, etc. After sharing in small groups, the students had to work together to weave all of their names/written pieces into a short skit to perform on stage. The other facilitators and I stood by in case the students got stuck, but our services were not needed. The students were proactive, imaginative, and quick on their feet. Quite frankly, they were amazing!!! I almost wish I could work at the Residential College just to see how these students I met yesterday progress throughout the year. Perhaps one day…
In other miscellany news:
And here’s a Sak pic for you, because how can you resist this face:
The first thing you should know is that I am now the proud owner of a t-shirt with the following quote printed on the back: “You must thole” ~ Colm Tóibín
What is “thole” you ask? (Don’t worry, I had to ask the same question!)
First appearing in Beowulf, migrating to Scottish, then Gaelic, and most surprisingly, leaping to the American South, “thole” roughly translates to “You must suffer and endure to make meaning out of life.” However great a word “thole” is, I don’t think that “tholing” is an activity that we must seek out. It comes naturally to all of us. When we are born, an invisible “thole” stamp is embedded into our foreheads. It is in our destiny to thole. Everyone’s tholing experience will be unique, but thole we shall do. This is a great reminder for writers. If we are to craft stories of the “real” human experience (even if our stories are populated with fictional characters), then we must let our characters thole.
This is just one of the great lessons I learned during my week at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, which was indeed a challenging week, but oh so rewarding. I produced four (rough) first drafts of short stories, and one piece of journalism, in which I interviewed a sweet local Gambier, OH resident name Deb, who works part-time in the local clothing boutique. I met the poet Carl Phillips, who coincidentally was the high school Latin teacher of one of my current VCFA professors. Most of all, my workshop group was the best class I could have asked for. Our group of ten writers, all ages and experience levels, was immediately comforted and encouraged by our instructor, Ghassan Abou-Zeineddine. Whenever I attend a class/workshop/conference, I make note of the structures, discussion questions, etc—anything that could inform my own teaching styles in the future. I was very impressed with Ghassan’s workshop structure:
I feel very grateful for the experience I had, spending a week geeking out over words and books with so many wonderful writers. And now it’s back to the everyday summer grind.
I am working on the thesis—slowly. I’m finding I am in a deep research mode, wanting to read anything that could be relevant. Yesterday, I read the entirety of John Hersey’s Hiroshima and am now in the deep throes of learning about the mysterious johatsu. Each time that I read something, I understand my characters that much more clearly. Of course, with the World Cup on all day, I am currently at my most distracted state.
Can you believe it is already July?! Here are some flowers that have tholed through the elements and are all the more beautiful because of their strength:
Cue the Billy Joel radio and take the Hudson River Line; it’s time for the recount of my latest adventure where one may get a New York state of mind.
Last week, the Bot* and I went to NYC for a couple of days.
It was Trey’s first time in the city so we hit all the highlights: we donned our red hunting hats and did our best melancholic Holden Caulfield impressions as we walked around The American Museum of Natural History; tried to solve the mystery of ‘where do the ducks in Central Park go in the winter’ and got lost in the woods on the way; walked The High Line; pressed our noses against the technicolor SeaGlass Carousel (just seeing this beautiful contraption made me giddy!); saw my favorite verdigris vixen, Lady Liberty; rang doorbells and sang about incredible things at The Book of Mormon; crossed the Brooklyn Bridge by foot; was mesmerized by the sheer genius of the Upright Citizens Brigade improv performers; browsed through hundreds of chapbooks at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop; and time traveled back to the groovy 60s at the Public Library’s rotating free exhibit.
What a wonderful tiny-holiday!
Now I’m whiling my days back in Ann Arbor. As much as a workaholic that I am, being home reminds me that while writing stories is one major aspect of my life and who I am, it’s not the only thing. There’s my family, my friends, my health, my daily enjoyment of being alive. All of which are important to me and contribute significantly to why I am able to write the stories that I do.
It’s tough though, because I often feel like I am always living two worlds at once. Like no matter how hard I try to stay present, a part of my mind is a little helicopter leaf in the wind, swirling into the bodies and lives of my characters, which always leaves me anxious to get back to writing. It’s a good thing I am not a gymnast, because I feel like I am majorly falling off this balance beam sometimes.
Perhaps the best antidote to this problem is reading. Reading (unlike writing for me) can be done in public spaces. Therefore, I can be “present” with others and deeply absorbed by another character simultaneously. I’ve currently been obsessing over reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman, Seventeen and J: Two Novels by Kenzaburo Oē, and sending literary postcards (via Bibliophilia) to friends…because I am all about saving the handwritten letter.
And of course, there is always Saki to the forever rescue.
*For those of you new to the blog or new to me, I frequently call my boyfriend Bot, although neither of us can recall how this nickname came into being. Perhaps that will be a sleuthing project one day on this blog. However, today is not that day.
The past few days I’ve been trapped in the cave of end-of-the-month deadlines, full of writing and editing and pulling together interviews and media galleries. Though I am biking more, which brings me great joy, and at least I know where my towel is (I hope you haven’t forgotten yours!)
I’m attempting to be a very hoopy frood and trying to get everything done before Trey and I go to NYC over the Memorial Day weekend. It will be his first time in ze Big Apple, so we have plans to walk The High Line, discover Brooklyn, time-travel in The Met, and watch the sunset silhouette Miss Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry. Oh, and we have tickets for The Book of Mormon, too!
Until then, I have this cat and this book to keep me company.
You know those days when you tell yourself you are going to do something, and it somehow gets pushed to the next day and then the next? That’s what this blog post has been for me and now the month of May has slipped right through my virtual fingers! And I thought May was going to be the month that I began to update the blog every day—ha!
It’s hard to believe that I have now completed one whole year of my MFA program at VCFA! The last week in Vermont was full of procrastinating from packing, procrastinating from packing, not packing, not-totally-sober tag on the Green, reading, watching The Lobster, a day trip to Bellow’s Falls (which is one of the few Vermontian locations in Atlas Obscura), and actually packing.
Now, I am back in Ann Arbor for a few months to see the beau, the ‘rents, and to work on my thesis novel/building my literary interview portfolio/continuing to manage Hunger Mountain! I also plan to start tap dancing again (because in another life, I want to be Sarah Reich and Michelle Dorrance someday). I’ve been taking lessons for the past 4 years, but you can really only progress so far with one hour of class per week.
Am still in the infancy of the novel — which means I’m still at that point where I have to steel myself with both ears constantly open, listening for my characters to share their secrets with me all day and all night. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on that shares a theme or interest to the novel, which is basically everything I am interested in at this exact moment. As Annie Dillard said in The Writing Life, don’t wait until the next book to write your obsession and interests; pull a Melville and write them now. Annie, I am taking that to heart, thank you very much.
I’m not usually an outlining type, but mapping out a general shape of this novel’s route has been very helpful for me so far.
There will be plenty more to write about, especially since I will attempt to get better at posting more frequently! I saw the documentary RGB today, which made me feel an enormous wave of appreciation for everything Ruth Bader Ginsburg has done for the betterment of women, and made me eager to do something to change the world NOW. Kombucha really does rock. As does Wilco, which I recently was introduced to — I know, I’m always late to the party.
So much to do, but it’s summertime, which is a weight off the shoulder in itself.