Archive for Featured Writers

Burn ~ Part 1 Investigation

by Nancy Grayum

We got burned. But as I simmer over the dismantling of the EPA, the outrageous bloating of a so-called “Defense” budget, the construction of pipelines, rolling of coal and oil trains and the fracking for natural gas, I also initiate an investigation of the contradictions in today’s energy culture and in my own way of living. I can resist more effectively if I am mindful.

Natural gas for our home averages a very reasonable $30 a month for on-demand hot water and the gas fireplace that, with the flick of a switch, heats most of our small house. The gas main runs under our street about 30 feet from the front door, where, gazing at snowfall last winter, I became wide-eyed-curious for the first time about where the gas in that pipe was extracted or how, and what route it followed as it moved to our home.

A geologist friend says our gas most likely comes from fracking the tar sands in western Alberta, British Columbia and Montana. With the methane leaks in drilling for it, the power needed to liquefy it and the carbon emissions from burning it, natural gas is a disaster for the climate. Fracking damages and pollutes water tables and causes earthquakes. Puget Sound Energy derives 24% of our electrical supply from natural gas generating plants and they plan to build more on the tideflats in Tacoma. Are there other energy sources we blindly enjoy without scrutinizing the actual cost?

Coal-fired electrical generation is being phased out in Washington since we passed a law in 2011 that will eliminate it by 2025. However, 35% of Puget Sound Energy electricity is generated at a coal plant in eastern Montana. Ironically, our bounty of coastal ports attracts fossil fuel companies’ desire for shipping facilities in order to reap profit from overseas markets. Lummi Nation provides a superb example of protection and resistance by holding fast to their 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott rights.

Hydroelectric power is the highest ranking source of electricity in the state, at 36%. As a young girl I rowed a little boat on the reservoir behind Merwin dam on the Lewis River, heartbroken to see the black ghosts of huge trees rooted and motionless beneath the deep, clear water. With construction of our 47 hydroelectric dams across nearly 20 of our major rivers, the new reservoirs permanently destroyed habitats for thousands of species, and the salmon journey through fish-ladders became a lame excuse for the vibrant rapids and life cycles of their past.

Oil is not extracted in Washington State, but refineries have a huge footprint along our coastlines, no matter how they try to hide behind tree buffers, wage statistics or best practices. Trains with hundreds of oil cars pass through every community with a track. Tank ships, with their engines idling in port 24/7, fill up with refined product and chug away, risking our fragile and beloved Salish Sea.

Electricity derived from wind, solar or bio-gas is minimal–just four percent–in our green state. We support it by paying higher fees to PSE. This doesn’t mean our homes are singled out to use only green energy, but we become sponsors for the addition of green power to the grid. I just barely believe this; after all, PSE, while once a public utility, is now held by foreign private investors and stockholders.

We’ve never trusted nuclear power plants because we’ve seen the damage. As a result of Japan’s tsunami catastrophe, we fret about our wild Alaska salmon. Instead of asking a chef, “Is it farmed or is it wild?” we now grimly joke, “Is it farmed or Fukishima?” We’ve very effectively resisted nuclear power plants: just 1% of PSE power is generated at Hanford.

Most Washingtonians who are fortunate and comfortable are agitated about forthcoming disaster, if not from spills or explosions then from the sense of walking over hot coals to stay economically safe. Messaging by fossil fuel corporations imprints and drives our culture, keeping people confused, polarized and in the dark. Ads, fake news, blatant lies and distraction succeed in the election of greedy con-artists and financiers to the seats of power. It’s not new. Our comfort has a high price, it’s just more obvious now than in recent years.

For me, resistance takes the form of paying attention to these greedy ones and trying not to get hooked into their game. Call me passive-aggressive: I withhold.

 

In this two-part post, Nancy withholds, so check back in a week to read about resistance by progressive refusal.

Aleppo

The smell of laurel and olive trees is impregnated in my skin. The scent is integrated and meshed with generations of my family. It was my great grandfather Elias, who had the original idea of planting laurel and olive trees on the small piece of land that he inherited from his father. Elias planted ten olive trees and one laurel whenever a child was born. When my grandfather Adnan inherited the land he went around asking his friends and neighbors what they would do with them. There were many suggestions and one night he came up with the idea of making soap. The soap of Aleppo is famous worldwide. Adnan and then my parents continued the tradition of planting olive and laurel trees every time a child was born, so now we have many trees. Before the war we had a successful soap making business.

When I was a little boy I would spend my days running in between the trees, as I got older I began to help with the recollection of olives, which was very hard work. But it was fun too, the whole family worked together. The women began cooking the day before, making baba ghanoush, kibbeh and, tabbouleh. The men and younger adults did the physical work. The grandmothers helped with the little ones. There was a job for everyone and within a few weeks it was all done.

One day I was running with my friend Ahmed. We were racing through some buildings that had been bombed the month before. Suddenly I heard the plane and before I could yell to Ahmed there was an absence of sound, as if all the noise in the city had been pulled into a vacuum and then the sound was deafening and I was thrown to the ground by a violent shock wave. I must have fainted. When I awoke, I did not recognize my surroundings. It was full of dust, debris, there was dirt in my mouth, my lips were dry, and my body and my eyes hurt. I tried to get up, but fell down. When I finally stood up, I began calling for Ahmed, but he did not answer. My heart began to beat faster, I felt sweat on my hands and began to push things around. But I knew that he would not be alive.

After that day I did not go out on my own again. I trembled when I heard the planes. I woke up yelling at night, calling for Ahmed, until my mother would come and touch my hair, shushing me.

“Why Mama, why Mama?”

“I don’t’ know. It is God’s will,” Kamar answered. I did not like this God that took so much and gave so little.

One day I asked my grandpa, why he had not wanted to leave.

“A country’s strength is in its people. If it’s people leave, it weakens it. I will not abandon my land. I believe there will be peace in Syria, soon. I want to be there when it happens”. My parents had offers to leave to France, but after many discussions, they finally agreed they could not leave my grandpa alone.

We watched our friends and neighbors flee, some died and some joined one or the other side. The Americans, the Russians and the Europeans bombed us. They say they want our oil. I just hope my grandpa will see peace. His parents planted the olive and laurel trees and he began the Aleppo Soap Company. We have been closed for six years, but next year we plan to reopen in hopes that the civil war in Syria will be over.

I’m just a little boy, but I heard and saw the bombs fall on my city. I know the smell of burning skin and the piercing sound of humans in their last scream. I’m just a little boy who has seen too much.

 

Karuna Tzadi Arnold began writing in Ibiza, Spain, when she was nine years old. Since then she has written in many different countries and currently lives in a small village in Extremadura, Spain, with her husband Lorenzo and their twin 3 year old boys, Miles and Rio. She enjoys her morning walks in nature and inventing stories for her children.

She looks forward to her boys beginning school in September, so she can have more time for her different writing projects; a couple children’s books, a blog and working on an historical novel “Rosannah”, which takes place in the 1770’s in Pennsylvania and in Wales. She also enjoys writing in Spanish and has spent this year entering writing competitions in Spain and South America. In January two of her short stories “Otra Etapa” and “Blind George,” were published on an online journal www.escritores-en-red.es

 

 

 

RX FOR AN ATTITUDE OF LASSITUDE: POETRY

 

RX for an Attitude of Lassitude: Poetry

 

Poetry is more necessary than ever as a fire to light our tongues. 
-Naomi Shihab Nye,

from Salting the Ocean

 

Don’t know about you, but since November I’ve been surfing salty, stinging waves of weariness and mostly wiping out. Sometimes, while reading a short story or novel or memoir I’ll keep going over and over the same paragraph without understanding a single word because, blinded by politically-induced brainfog, I’ve crashed against distracting rocks of uncertainty. Has this happened to you, dear reader/writer/poet, as well?

When his ship first came to Australia

Cook wrote, the natives

continued fishing, without looking up.

Unable, it seems, to fear what was too large to be comprehended.

-Jane Hirshfield

Global Warming

The good news is that poetry seems to help. A lot. Rosa Inocencio Smith wrote recently in The Atlantic, “There is something comforting in reading a poem and seeing your fears, irrationalities, questionable choices, anxieties, reflected—seeing a poet articulate what you thought was inexpressible, and in that invaluable moment feeling a little less alone.”

there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.

-Charles Bukowski

from “The Laughing Heart

Whether reading or writing, poetry can be a portal out of our cave of confusion and into the brighter light of a fresh outlook. An engaging poem may re-energize us or even change us in astonishing ways for life. Through the practices of reading and writing poetry we may come to know our authentic voice and those of other poets. Poeming relieves life’s daily turbulences, comforts and inspires us and, in turn, we can do that for others. Poetry may also support political change and, as Mark Heywood has written in “2017, First Thoughts: Towards a Government of Poets,” poetry may even be “… a badly neglected branch of politics.”

As we reflect & pray & and meditate on their brutal deaths

Let us celebrate those who marched at night and spoke of peace

& chanted Black Lives Matter

-Juan Felipe Herrera

from “@ the Crossroads-a Sudden American Poem

William Stafford wrote, “Everyone is born a poet – a person discovering the way words sound and work, caring and delighting in words. I just kept on doing what everyone starts out doing. The real question is: Why did other people stop?”

The border is a line that birds cannot see.

-Alberto Ríos

from “The Border: A Double Sonnet

In our town many folks didn’t stop. We are a large-for-a-small-town, active community of poets, and growing. National and world chaos is clearly a catalyst for birthing poets and poems. Here, poets gather to send their powerful words out into the world at open mics: Laurel Leigh’s at Village Books, Chuckanut Sandstone at the Colophon Café, Creekside out in Sudden Valley, Poetrynight at the Central Library, to name a few.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

-Maya Angelou

from “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me

We’re so fortunate to have special events, like Luther Allen and Judy Kleinberg’s SpeakEasy for which local poets most recently performed “Poems of Darkness, Poems of Light,” reflecting both the challenges and enlightening moments of these troubled times. And World Peace Poets, who sponsored a month of sending out Peace Poetry Postcards this February, published Peace Poems, Volume Two in April, and provide Peace Poetry and other workshops throughout the year.

To float like a cloud

you have to go to the trouble

of becoming one.

– Robert Genn

from “The Twice-Weekly Letters”

As if that isn’t enough, twice each year Clover: A Literary Rag is published by Independent Writers Studio, featuring work by both local and international poets. And if you’re a competitive type, try your pen at Sue C. Boynton’s Poetry Contest each March, and the Whatcom Writes contest in the fall. Or, shoot for displaying your poem in the new Poem Booth downtown. All of these activities celebrate the importance of poetry in our destabilized lives, but there is one more that never fails to engage the four chambers of my raging heart.

What can I do?

I have to take care of it.

The famished spirit eats fire, poetry, and rain; it only wants love.

-Joy Harjo

from “Everybody Has a Heartache: A Blues

Every year, I can’t wait until April when National Poetry Writing Month, NaPoWriMo, comes around. Several of us in Red Wheelbarrow Writers have participated over the years and find it challenging, but also delightful and rewarding. We write a poem each day for the thirty days of the the month, and by the end of the month we not only have a sweet collection of poems, but the lobus poeticus in our brains is fairly glowing. Something about daily writing frees poets, encourages us to experiment and open up to possibilities we didn’t know existed. It brings a sense of hope for change as we release our voices out into the world. We feel heard. And in being heard, I believe we come to see poetry as an archipeligo of small islands on which we can rest. And so can you, dear reader/writer/poet, in this churning sea of craziness, without drowning.

Friday afternoon and I’m wheelin’ the Subaru past

the corner of Cornwall and Magnolia, honkin’ at a guy

holdin’ a Black Lives Matter sign, showin’ support,

thinkin’ I oughta be out there, too, with my rainbow

striped Peace Be With You poster, when I notice

a clutch of crows hangin’ out on a leafless maple.

Crows don’t know nothin’ ‘bout politics.

-Susan Chase-Foster

from “Crow Bop” NaPoWriMo, 2017

 

 

Susan Chase-Foster writes poetry and prose fueled by sweltering Mexican beaches, terrifying Taiwanese typhoons, Alaskan mosquitoes the size of condors, and rampant planetary distress. She is a two-time Walk Winner of the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest and is delighted that her work has appeared in Clover: a Literary Rag, Cirque, Peace Poems, Noisy Water, Whatcom Writes anthologies, and Red Wheelbarrow Writers’own Memory into Memoir. Currently, Susan is working with her son on a collection of poems and photographs from Taiwan, and is in temporary remission from blogitis at https://stilllifewithtortillas.com/.

Love Army–One Soldier at a Time

She comes into my office. Slight build, long brown hair, brown eyes. Sanja (not her real name) is about forty years old. A second generation Indian (as in from India). She married a man she met in college and has two children, six and nine. This is our intake session and all I know before she comes in is that she’s feeling depressed and doesn’t know why.

As we talk, I find out that she has a job working fifty hours a week at a tech company and that she volunteers for her daughter’s Girl Scout troupe. At lunch, she dashes to the gym for thirty minutes on the treadmill, and on the weekends she works on a project for #LoveArmy and their Green for All initiative.

I listen for the better part of a half hour with part admiration for how completely Sanja lives into her personal value system and part guilt that only this year did I realize that single-use plastics like straws and picnic cutlery were a major hazard to our environment. Sanja’s household is almost at zero waste. She plays a game with her children to keep plastic out of the house. “Plastic out of the house is money out of the hands of polluters,” she says. “Then she says, “I’ve been working on this stuff for two years, but since the election I feel completely defeated.” And she starts to cry.

I sit across from her in my small therapy room. The sun is coming in the window at an angle so it hits me right in the eyes, but I resist getting up to fix the blinds. I want to hold space for her pain. Which is also my pain.

She goes on to describe her fears and how she feels like giving up on saving the planet, but how when she looks at her children she knows she has to keep moving forward even when she doesn’t feel hopeful, I start to well up too. A tear escapes, and I blot it away with the knuckle of my forefinger.

Sanja isn’t the first terrified client crying in my office over the election. Since my job is to hold space for clients, to let them sort through the triggers and pain in their lives by offering them supportive reflections and questions, I try to never let my own political cat out of the bag. But I find it so hard nowadays. I find it hard sitting with Sanja, someone who has lived her life for years in a state of conscious intention, believing she could make a difference.

“It’s no small thing to feel hope slip away, is it?” I reflect. “I’m sure that’s contributing to your depression.”

“No, this whole thing isn’t small at all. I know you can’t do anything about the big picture,” she stares out the window for a moment. “I guess I’m hoping someone can help me hang on to my faith.”

I nod. I don’t have any confidence at all that I can help her with that. My work since the election has been difficult. Not since 9-11 have I had so many clients in my office talking about world events as their major stressors. “I’ll try,” I say. “At least I can help you learn a new relationship with fear and frustration. Maybe if they don’t feel as unmanageable and overwhelming, you can see your faith through the fog.” Even as I say it, I can only hope it’s true.

We make another appointment, and I walk her back to the waiting room to say goodbye. “I feel a little lighter,” she says as she walks out the door. “Thank you.”

“It’s my privilege,” I say. And I mean it.

I go back into my office and adjust the blinds I resisted adjusting before. I think about how I should recycle more. I should march more. I should call my elected officials more.

I have a half hour before my next client. I heat up my lunch and pull out my new bamboo utensils to eat it with. I pop open my computer and Google Love Army.

“We need all hands on deck fighting for the future.” –Van Jones, founder of #LoveArmy

 

Cami Ostman is co-founder of the Red Wheelbarrow Writers and Director of Memory into Memoir, a program that gives writers everything they need to get their books done. She is author of Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents and Co-editor of Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions. You can find her at camiostman.net.

Hermits, Groupies, and Ruth Ozeki

Like Alice Robb In last week’s blog, “In Praise of Writer Buddies,” I own the label of hermit scribbler,” a solitary figure at one with my keyboard even when I’m at the Village Books Writing Table, at my favorite library haunts in Ferndale and Burlington, or Café Adagio and the Swan Café at the Co-op.

I’ve been thinking about another label. I posted pictures and text about four Ruth Ozeki events I attended during Whatcom Reads. Dee Robinson responded with the following post: “Methinks Linda is a Ruth groupie.”

The Groupie designation originated in the sixties when teenage girls hung around and/or traipsed after rock groups, a phenomenon which became so prominent that the New York Post complained “Groupies—girls who chase boys in rock groups—are now getting so way out in their adulation that the whole mess warrants a federal investigation.” I entered the sixties at age seventeen, but neither I nor anyone I knew in my central California hometown of Visalia displayed excessive rock group admiration.

I like to think that my interest in Ruth Ozeki and other authors from whom I can learn, is admiration of a different sort. I was pleased at the FB reply by my library/FB friend Gayle Anderson Helgoe: “Me thinks that Linda is a groupie of all things literary…books, authors, writing, libraries and (of course) bookstores.” I smiled at Gayle’s comment, for I love being perceived as a supporter, enthusiast, and fan of “all things literary.”

Even so, I admit to a smidgen of groupie-ness. I showed up, always early, to all of the six publicized Whatcom READS! March 3-5 events, except for the showing of “Halving the Bones” at the Pickford which occurred while I was in class—and I’ll watch it on DVD. I took a dozen pictures, fourteen pages of notes, purchased four books, and had them all signed.

Writer and FB friend Kari Neumeyer posted, “Will you write a Red Wheelbarrow Blog about all the things you learned? I wasn’t able to attend any of the events, but I …listened to the audio book…and am interested in what she had to say.” When Red Wheelbarrow decided to do a series of blogs, I seized the opportunity to share some things that struck me.

Despite my background in journalism, I prefer to avoid the Who/What/When/Where /Why-And-Sometimes-How approach to reporting. Instead, I will do “BulletSpeak” quotes, notes, and paraphrases of Ozeki’s insights, serious and funny, on the writing process.

  • Researching is fun. It can keep you from writing.
  • I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than move commas around. (Also a distraction from writing)
  • Fixing sentences is like hanging wallpaper.
  • Unlike some writers who work from an outline, I don’t. I allow a book to grow in fractals, in branching patterns.
  • Writing a book is a long process. I abandoned it 4-5 times. It emerged in fits and starts and proceeded in a jerky way. Every new path ended up improving the story.
  • Technology is always failing. Pencils don’t.
  • You don’t need an MFA. Just go to the public library and check out books to learn what you need to do.
  • My mind is a great garbage patch of detritus spinning around.
  • I don’t always know where characters come from; they can emerge from anywhere. Nao (the main character in A Tale for the Time Being) came to me in a persistent voice. She wouldn’t leave me alone. “A girl’s voice washed up on the shores of my imagination.”
  • “When you perform an audiobook, the producers put a pillow over your stomach to muffle growls.” (Note: I also listened to the audiobook—Ozeki’s rendering is outstanding.)
  • Ambition is about the future. Figure out a way to live between the dualities of patience and impatience. Buddha said to find the middle way; use generative tension.
  • Serve your fellow man. Serve others first. If there were a splinter in your left hand, would the right hand ignore it?
  • Spiritual practice is about now. I try to be comfortable with the unknowing. I try hard when I meditate not to write the novel.

Her last directive is one we hear often:

  • “Writers: Just sit down and write.”

My next undertaking will be to launch a blog. I will begin with prompts based on Ruth Ozeki’s preface to the Whatcom Writes! Anthology called Choices. She suggested twenty, some crazy like studying one’s face in the mirror for three hours (!) and some fun like this one: “Go to a library… Roll dice and write down the numbers until they resemble a Dewey Decimal call number. Find the book with the closest corresponding number and read it as though it were the voice of God.” Watch for it at lindaqlambert.com (currently under construction) on April 1st.

 

linda lambert

BIO: Linda Q. Lambert is a January 2016 graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine, the mother of four sons and three daughters, an active member in Red Wheelbarrow Writers, and a retired library director.