Archive for May 2012

Red Wheelbarrow May Writer of the Month: Bob Lee!

Red Wheelbarrow Writers, meet Bob Lee. Bob is one of our faithful happy hour attendees, and if you don’t know him, you’re missin’ somethin’ special. Thank you Bob, for spending some time letting us get to know you!

Hi Bob, in your writing what do you see as most rewarding?

Forty-eight years ago I began drafting the first chapter of a novel.  Those crisp, yellowed pages, typed with my Smith Corona portable typewriter, reside in the bottom of a box somewhere in the attic.  Then came graduate school and forty-four years of discipline in writing simple declarative sentences for scientific and technical papers and books—hundreds of thousands of words, mostly unread in filing cabinets and libraries.  Yet my few yellowed pages contain more of life than all I wrote in my academic career.  During these work years, my passion to capture the pulse of life appeared only in scraps of poetry stuffed into journals or hidden in drawers.

When I retired four years ago I built a house to clear the academic detritus from body, soul, and mind, and then set about writing.  So what I find most rewarding in writing is to go back over my personal history and give new life to memories.  Yet I am only just beginning to learn how to use descriptions and metaphors to redeem people and places.  Writing interrupts the flow of linear time and transports me to a timeless state in which the accumulated pains of a difficult childhood, broken marriages, and professional challenges recede when caressed by words giving birth to the joys of living in the present moment.

What is most frustrating?

I can’t find enough time to catch up with reading current literature while learning to write creatively.  The demands of a teaching and research career at a major university monopolized every moment not devoted to family, exercise, and outdoor activities.  In technical and scientific academic disciplines, almost no free time remains for reading, creative writing, or serious excursions into the humanities.  I have often heard critics remark that the greatest fear of the modern university professor is to embrace her/his own humanity.  How true!  While I wandered into the humanities more than most science professors, I lost decades of immersion in poetry, literature, and creative writing.  Only now am I engaging the life I had dreamed about while a young professional forester working in the woods with evenings and weekends for my family and my own pursuits.

What project(s) are you undertaking now?  Where are you in the process?

Last year I began writing, Remembering Katy, a novel based roughly on my mother’s life.  Who knows why I undertook this project?  Perhaps I wanted to redeem my childhood from my mother’s unhappiness.  Perhaps I wanted to remember her for who she was, to redeem her from the hard realities of her life by celebrating her courage.  Probably both.  Regardless, I have come to know my mother more completely than I did when she was alive.  Listening to my sisters recall the stories she told, coupled with letters written to her when she was a young woman, has allowed me to fill out the depth and complexity of her character.  I am undecided what I will do with the story when it is completed.

Last fall I began writing a memoir to tell stories from my professional career, beginning as a forester and then spending thirty-five years as a professor focusing on the sociological aspects of forestry and the environment.  Heretic Forester is intended for publication, and will hopefully be submitted later this year or early in 2013.  I chose this title because so many of my professional challenges brought me into conflict with conventional wisdom.  I came to believe that good sociologists must be partly subversive to and largely alienated from their society to reveal how social arrangements construct reality. Such truth-telling had it costs, and the time is right to tell stories of how sociology turned a forester into a heretic.

What is the role of readers for your work?  Do you share your work in draft?  What do you most value in your readers?

Taking Laura Kakpakian’s novel and memoir classes provided me with my most important writing resource: supportive critics who can tell me when I’m headed down the wrong path without making me feel rejected.  Forty years of peer review in university settings failed to reach the standards of professionalism I have know from Laura, classmates, and friends who read and comment on my creative writing.  I plan on writing at least five to eight drafts before considering a piece ready for a final review.  Readers of early drafts provide essential insights into both what I am trying to say and how I could better say it.  I firmly believe effective writing is a communal activity.  In fact, it must be if I am intending to communicate something unique to others I do not know and will never meet.  Participation in RWB expands my appreciation for the repertoire of writing in Bellingham and gives me the opportunity to practice my storytelling voice in a wonderfully rich and supportive environment.

Who are the writers you have admired in the past and why?

I took American literature in community college while recovering from a youth of high school football and girls.  The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick and the transcendentalists turned me on to reading.  Then I discovered Shakespeare.  I have always like Christian allegory, starting as a child with George McDonald’s Princess and Curdy and continuing from there to his other books.  And, of course, Dostoyevsky, the master of all allegorists.  Few modern writers do this well, although Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest tempts us with entertaining Christian allegory adapted to the modern age.  And no writer has captured the independent spirit of logging communities I spent so many years studying as well as Kesey in Sometimes a Great Notion.  The cubist writings of Par Lagerkvist still intrigue me, and lure me to try it someday.  I now have time to again read for pleasure and am just beginning to tap modern writers.

What have you discovered in your life as a writer?

The most surprising discovery I have made as a writer is how it compels me to sit at my computer, turn up an opera, shakuhachi, or early music and let the writing juices flow.  I love it!  For years, I took pride in a clean and efficient piece of technical writing, but never knew pleasure like this.  I feel alive and at peace when I am immersed in writing.  Thanks to all of you for listening and reading.

Thanks again to Bob for being a part of our community and for letting us in on what he’s up to!