Mid-winter I enjoy reviewing my previous year and setting goals for the months ahead. Here’s a peek at what I’m up to, plus juicy links for you to sample:
Culture, Food & South Seattle Neighborhoods
My favorite projects of 2011 include writing for South Seattle neighborhoods like White Center and South Park. The best perks of these projects are a) eating good food on my lunch breaks, b) working with awesome people, and c) meeting Seattle merchants and hearing their stories. I use what I learn from each merchant interview to write business profiles, feature articles, and other collateral. Content I write is used for print and web promotions offered throughout the neighborhood and the greater Seattle area.
In White Center I help grocers spread the word about fresh, healthy food available within walking distance. With more than 30,000 residents speaking 50+ languages, White Center boasts many delicious globally-inspired local eats, as well as specialty grocery markets where folks can find ingredients for Southeast Asian, East African, Indian, Latin American, and Eastern European cuisines. (Learn more about activities in White Center neighborhood at the White Center Community Development Association.)
Just a few minutes’ ride from White Center is South Park, an old Seattle neighborhood with a uniquely urban-industrial heritage. Our goal with Catch the Culture is to attract customers to the 30+ retail stores and restaurants along 14th and Cloverdale. These businesses are feeling the squeeze from the closure of the South Park Bridge in 2010, which typically brings some 20,000 vehicles of customers per day to the neighborhood. South Park is a square-mile oasis of nearly 4,000 residents with a school, a farm, community centers, family homes, hundreds of unique businesses, and a pretty stretch of shoreline along Seattle City’s only river, the formidable Duwamish River (we’ll get back to the Duwamish another day – there’s more to say about this river than one paragraph will allow).
PS – That fabulous South Park logo (as well as the Brainripples logo) are the work of graphic designer Kathi “george” Wheeler at Noise w/o Sound. Whether you need design work for print, web, signage, whatever, george is the genius you want. Unless you want something boring and plain–in that case you’re looking for someone else.
Stories, Poetry & Midnight Madness
Whenever I get busy, I write poetry. A work-weary brain can be conducive to the weaving (and mis-weaving) of words. Each year I like to use January through March to mine poems from the previous year’s journals, and select usable pieces for revision and submission. I think I have about eight candidates worth looking at this month.
I may have forgotten to share here that my poem “Shore” won the Spring 2011 poetry contest for issue 3 of Line Zero (“Springtide” also appears in this issue). I’m grateful for the publication in a new indie arts journal, and I’m even more grateful to have discovered the Line Zero community. As my writer friend James Buescher used to remind me, I’m “not a joiner.” But joiner or no, I feel like I’m in good company in the Line Zero pages.
Last summer I made time (read: skipped sleep) to participate in another Clarity of Night Short Fiction Contest hosted by Jason Evans (which, by the way, is a lot of fun for writers at every level). I’ve since taken my flash piece Solarrivum and rewritten it as a complete short story, which is now in its final stages of editing and actually kinda pleases me (which in turn makes me suspicious that it still needs drastic work). Soon I’ll begin the joy of submissions; I have my eye on a couple speculative fiction/slipstream journals. Speaking of which, feel free to join me sending good vibes for the speedy revival of GUD Magazine.
In January I started my latest fiction-in-progress, a story set in a Twilight-Zone-worthy cityscape. I have the basic structure and cast, and I’ve sketched the main character to get a sense for his needs. For this story I’d like to write a few cutthroat characters, so among my winter reading is Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet – an excellent choice I recommend to anyone seeking good examples of strong character voices.
Rot, Mud & Other Good Dirt
2011 left me with almost no time for garden and forest romping (as evidenced by a severe lack of blogging here at Brainripples). While I did get out into the wilderness for occasional recess, I didn’t even plant my cold frames last spring. That’s about to change. Greens, radishes, onions, and carrots are my usual pre-spring starters in the ground, and I’ll need to get a jump on corn and squash in the cold frames for transplanting to the hills once the warm weather returns in May/June. With any luck I will also find the time (and the necessary bandwidth) to blog from the garden in 2012.
Speaking of nature blogging, The Festival of the Trees has sprouted adventitious roots in the rich loam of the home blog. No longer a roving blog carnival, the Festival of the Trees accepts all tree, forest, and wood related submissions for consideration at treeblogging.com. Poet/Editor/Brainiac-at-Large Dave Bonta is diligently keeping the Festival alive, and he’s found some really cool stuff in recent weeks. Case in point: Goths up trees. Nuff said. (No, one more thing – if you want to see another cool project of Dave’s, check out Qarrtsiluni literary journal where he and Beth Adams are Managing Editors).
Which brings us to other good dirt. The compost pile I started moving in 2010 never made a complete relocation, but I did plenty of relocating to make up for it. After a busy 2010 I started 2011 renting the upstairs of a farmhouse in Hobart, where I stayed for six months to be closer to Seattle work. Making time to care for my health continues to be a priority, and I seem to be relearning how good health enables good writing (somehow the rhythm of writing hypnotizes and the mind can forget the needs of the body, like when I continue writing even though I had to pee some 90 minutes ago). It may seem as if an unwavering diet of persistence and sleep deprivation is a recipe for great writing, but to take that path the writer must gamble finished work against impending burnout, and these days I aim for finished work as often as possible (a habit I attribute to the sound recommendations of Seattle storyteller Anita Marie Moscoso). Finished work requires persistence and steady pacing, even if sleep deprivation is still on the docket.
Recently I read an older article in the Guardian about Philip Roth, yet another accomplished author of whose work I have not read enough. Among the best ideas I gathered from the article are Roth’s habits of writing while standing at a lectern (I’ve considered this for months now but have yet to try), and walking one-half mile for every page he writes. This winter I think I’ll count “bring in and stack the wood” in lieu of my half-mile, although if I apply that math retroactively to my current WIPs I’d have to say, there’s a lot of wood to bring in yet (especially if I want to get ahead of the next good snow storm).
Wanna help me shape my spring reading list? Share what’s good on your bookshelf this season, or tell me where I can read/view your latest work.
Here’s to a most excellent 2012 for all!
In recent months (ok, years) I haven’t exactly devoted a lot of time and attention to my own well-being. I could point to a few causes, but mostly it comes down to this: my life has been crazy busy over the past few years, and I’ve either lacked the discipline or simply not made the time to seek balance amid the whirlwind. Perhaps having self-discipline and making time for important things could be considered one and the same?
I’m guessing that at some point, most of us are forced to realize that we need to slow down and reprioritize. There are plenty of published materials from experts and laypeople alike which expound upon the virtues of personal wellness (or what I like to think of as common sense). Ideas like “slowing down,” “finding balance,” and “doing what you love,” are deceptively simple, and somehow easily overlooked.
For those who share my situation of a temporary lack of common sense, or for those who simply need a friendly reminder to be kind to the self, here are a few easy steps that I’m taking to strike a balance, find a center, and achieve renewed health.
No, not you, me. Tech-loving writer-geek that I am, it’s become all too easy for me to spend sunup to sundown at my desk, typing and scribbling away. It doesn’t take a genius to discover that sitting on my butt all day, every day, might be part of what’s got me down this season.
Option 1: GARDEN, of course! I postponed my garden work this spring to make time to prepare for a trip that I wasn’t able to take — because I got sick. The result is an unprepared spring garden and a grouchy Jade. In this image you can see the fruits of my initial labors, which are tasty indeed. I’m sticking with light-duty garden tasks for now (like seed sowing) and working my way up to the big stuff (like garden bed relocation).
I’ve mentioned before that my garden resides in a rock-rich swath of glacial till in Kitsap County, which means I need to add a lot of organics to build up the soil. This season I had a healthy pile of mushroom compost delivered on my driveway, which equates to lots of rounds with the wheelbarrow to relocate the decomposing matter to places around the garden. I’ve decided to visualize that big, steaming pile of crap as the symbol of my big, steaming pile of unwell. I can’t move the pile in one go, but I have to work at it, one load at time.
–> Suggestion: find a symbol that works for you, and see how good it makes you feel to move that mountain of shit out of your way. [Hint: try looking at the state of your desk, or office, or house. Notice anything that’s getting in your way?]
Option 2: QIGONG: I first tried T’ai Chi Ch’uan in 2000 while working in payroll tax and terminations at the-bank-formerly-known-as-WAMU. If I think about it, I probably started taking that program for the same reasons as I have today: I wasn’t feeling well, and I knew I needed a change. My instructor at the time (whose name currently eludes my memory) said something to the effect of, “the first million tries don’t count,” as told to him by his mentor. For me, this is a reminder both to discipline myself with practice, and to forgive myself for the inevitable imperfection.
I know that I love to dance, even if I’m not all that graceful. While studying at The Evergreen State College I practiced Orissi dance with Dr. Ratna Roy and Jamie Lynn Colley. Orissi Indian classical dance is a delicious intersection of Tantric, Yogic, and Martial arts, which often uses motion to tell stories on the stage. Orissi is by far my favorite dance, but it has been six years since I really practiced in earnest, and I’ve lost much of the form, discipline, and strength I once had.
This June I am beginning with Martial arts (again) with the help of Eight Simple Qigong Exercises for Health: The Eight Pieces of Brocade, a DVD by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming which was originally recommended to me many moons ago by Qigong instructor Michelle Wood. I bought this DVD a couple years ago, used it for a while, and then stopped. This June my focus is on the sitting portion of the Eight Piece Brocade, which I am practicing every morning upon waking. My goal is to learn enough of the motions, and the poetry behind them, so that I can do this every day (and without using the DVD as a guide). I’d like this daily routine to last indefinitely.
–> Suggestion: find a motion that works for you, and do it EVERY DAY. [Hint: walking is moving. So is waving your hands in the air like ya just don’t care!]
An attitude adjustment can be the most obvious (and the most difficult) solution to a lot of problems. Feeling bad begets more bad feeling. Whenever I’m frustrated, stuck-in-a-rut, or I otherwise feel like there’s no way out, I can usually eliminate all the external grievances I might have, and boil my problems down to this: I’m not looking for a solution, and I’ve donned an unproductive attitude.
Option 1: SMILE, of course! Anyone who has experienced depression knows it’s not that easy. You don’t “just snap out of it,” because chances are, you didn’t just snap into it. You probably wormed your way down into that dark little hole (or fell in unwittingly), and maybe turned your back on the exit, forgetting it was there. Silly movies are one approach, but I’m not a TV junkie. My approach is to spend time among the things I love (like out in the forest and the garden) until I start to wake up, notice the world around, and smile. This morning I ate breakfast on the porch and watched a humming bird eat its breakfast in the salal (Gaultheria shallon). I dare anyone not to smile at such a sight.
–> Suggestion: close your eyes, quiet your mind, and ask yourself this question: “If I could be doing anything I wanted right now, what would it be?” [Hint: it’s probably not “sitting on my butt getting frustrated.”]
Option 2: EAT WELL, naturally. I consider myself a good eater… when I eat. I prefer fresh foods to packaged foods, I grow what I can in my garden, and 18 months ago I began to eliminate meat from my diet and replace it with plant proteins, like my many beloved legumes. This has been a great choice for me for several personal reasons, but if you need a few of your own it’s easy to find ethical, ecological, and practical reasons to reduce your meat intake: if you’re looking for discussion rather than instruction, start with Michael Pollan.
The problem for me is that I often skip meals when I’m busy, ill, tired, grouchy, or otherwise out of balance. I’ve also recently adopted a bad habit of eating at my desk while working, and it’s not hard to recognize that my meal isn’t restful if I type while I munch. My goal is to unplug from my computer for significant chunks of the day, get back into the kitchen, and remember to celebrate the simple pleasures daily. For me, this means physically shutting down my machines, because otherwise I’ll think of something REALLY AWESOME, run in to my office to write it down, and stay there for three hours.
–> Suggestion: take stock of your meals, and BE HONEST. Really be honest. If most of your food comes from a box, consider this: where do most animals get their food? [Hint: the answer is not “from a box.”]
* * *
To recap, my goals/foci are as follows:
1) Get out in the garden
2) Practice Qigong
3) Smile, and adjust the attitude
4) Eat well and cook more
* * *
Your turn! Share your ideas and answer us this in the comments: how are you approaching your goals, health, and attitude this season?