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Standing on the top rung of the ladder, the one above the one with the sticker that says, “Don’t stand or sit above this rung for risk of losing balance,” I’m trying to fit warped tongues into warped grooves. Up on my toes, fully extended, the ladder rocks and I wish for just six more inches. Even three would be great. It’s not happening though, and as I reach up with the nail gun, the air line snags on the ladder’s base and I drop the 16 ft length of pine. Then I swear, only once, but loudly and with a vengeance. Em looks up briefly then goes back to wrestling the tarp away from my wood pile.

Itching with fiberglass threads that rain down from exposed insulation, I build up a film of sweat and sawdust as I move up and down the ladder with wood in one hand, tools in the other. The radio plays the country Top 40 in the background, but I’m too preoccupied to change the station. When the compressor kicks on it drowns out Toby Keith singing about American pride. Later I will build a hot fire and take a cold shower to wash away the fibers, but right now I make up words and sing over the compressor as the ceiling slowly comes together.

Last night I sat for an interview about writing with a senior from Chiloquin High School. The student was an engaging and interesting young man. However, he’s a young man who is in the middle of fighting the demons that come with growing up in a small, poverty-ridden community with a conflicted past and an uncertain future. Drugs and alcohol are rampant in the school system, and many students begin battling substance abuse problems before they graduate the seventh grade. Some will never win. Boredom, a lack of role models, and a failing infrastructure conspires against these kids from a young age. To make it out, they are asked to call on an incredible amount of inner strength and determination. They must have dreams.

I’d like to be able to give my interviewer some hope, so I’m writing him a letter. It’s pasted below, with his name removed, in draft form. I’d love to hear what you might tell this kid, or another kid fighting the same battles. Maybe if we had enough notes of hope, we could ask poet Cam Scott, who is working in Chiloquin High School teaching creative writing through a writer in residency program that extends until Thanksgiving, to pass them on to his students.

This is my letter.

Dear                 ,

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, and in turn to answer my questions. And thank you for sharing your ideas about books and the role of mentors.

Last night as I stood outside the library after the last of the workshop attendees had left, as the cold burrowed into my bones, and the street light flashed out, then back on, I thought about you, and I thought about what it might be like to grow up in the Klamath basin in general, and in Chiloquin specifically.

It can’t be easy. I bet you have a lot of days where you’re bored, and also a lot of days where you feel like no one is paying attention to what’s going on with you and your life. Maybe you have days where you feel like you’re alone, or you feel lonely. Maybe you have days of being proud of what you’ve achieved, and maybe you have days where you’re ashamed of something you said or did.

I want you to know that just because you get bored, it does not mean you have to be boring. Inside you there are dreams, hopes and a future. I saw it. I think you probably know it to be true. Do you know, also, that achieving those is going to be hard? That you’re going to have to want them more than you want anything else, then you’re going to have to take action to get them. It’s going to be work, but work can be beautiful and something to be proud of in it’s own right.

When you asked me how I felt about Chiloquin, and how I thought it would influence my writing, I said Chiloquin felt sad to me. I said the community seemed conflicted and lost, and that as a result I felt conflicted in how I would write about it. What I didn’t say, is that I feel the individuals who claim Chiloquin as home also have great potential to create change for the better. To create a new world in their own stomping grounds.

Chiloquin is your town, and one thing I’ve learned is we are never free of where we come from. So you’re going to carry some of the town’s sadness and conflict with you. It’s not fair, but it’s the truth. The good news, though, is that this inequity has the potential to make you stronger, to make your writing stronger, to drive you toward realizing new possibilities.

Growing up this way, you’re being armed with stories that only you can tell. I trust that you’re brave enough to tell them. I also trust that when you start telling those stories you’re going to understand you’re responsible to others. Honor that responsibility by telling your stories and writing your poems with integrity and a clear mind. Then ask for help, clarification and more information when you need it.

People used to say that high school is the best time of your life. It’s not. The world sits in front of you, and it is big and bright.

Be safe,
Aimee

PS. Be nice to Cam, and make sure he doesn’t eat too many corn dogs. He’s working on your behalf.

Iron Gate Dam. Image from treehugger.com

I went to the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon last week for a slew of meetings and to attend a public hearing on the proposed removal of four dams on the Klamath River in 2020. Several community members stood before a panel of officials and court reporters in support of dam removal. A few did not. Of these, one older man stood out more than the others.

At the mic he introduced himself first as a member of the Republican party then as a tax payer. He said that he, and the American tax payer, was unwilling to pay for the removal of the dams, and the restoration of the Klamath to a free-flowing, fish-supporting river. He said there was no evidence that removal would not cause greater problems in the basin, that the dams were necessary, and that any sort of change would be in violation of the wants of the people.

I was at the meeting to observe and listen. So even though I had plenty to say, I didn’t stand up and make a public, recorded comment to be included in the official documents presented to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. At the time, I thought remaining quiet was the right thing, but I keep thinking about that older man, and all the men and women who spoke at the meeting either for or against dam removal.

I should have stood up. I should have said that even though I’m not from the Klamath, and even though I’ve spent only a few days wandering the basin, walking the rivers, I love the land. How the light spills across the water of Upper Klamath Lake and dances in the currents of the twin rivers. How the aspens and alders seem to explode with color even though few slow to watch. How the fog sits low in the valleys in the morning turning the cattle into ghostly shadows.

I should have said that though I work hard, I don’t make much money. But that I’m a young person with a lot of working years in front of me and what I do make I pay tax on. I should have said that the old man who spoke for “American taxpayers” didn’t speak for me. That my tax paying years were just getting started while his were likely winding down. And that even though I didn’t agree with many ways the political system is run, I was willing to pay the taxes I pay now, plus some, if it meant that the Klamath and rivers throughout the west were given half a chance to run free. That’s what I should have said.

To learn more about Klamath Basin water issues, or to read and comment on the EIS/EIR, visit: http://klamathrestoration.gov/

 

 

Em has joint compound on the tips of her ears. It’s in my hair. We’re a tired mess with two rounds of drywall mudding and sanding still to go, and a stack of pine 1×6 and a nail gun being delivered on Monday for a tongue and groove ceiling that I think I can put together because I once did an oak floor. I have only an idea of what I’m doing and almost zero actual experience.

On the writing front, I have 20 days to get the first piece of the big project delivered and I’m still staring at a blank screen. The smaller projects are getting done, but they have me running back and forth and up and down the state. Corvallis, Monday. Chiloquin, Tuesday. Portland, Thursday.

Do other people do this?

 

I have edits to get done on two very different pieces and I need to get started on a long-form project. The edits are relatively straight forward, and I hope to have them turned within a few hours, but the project has me daunted. My inherent tendencies toward procrastination aside, I think it’s stemming in part from not yet knowing what the story is. I have the idea, but not the narrative thread. I know I need to do more research, interviewing, listening, observing. The story is there, I just have to find it. I know that. Yet, I’m still feeling like I need to get something down now. Beginnings are the hardest. And middles. And ends. I’m afraid of my work. As if the page will jump out and bite me.

Anne Lamott said perfectionism is the death of creativity. I would bet worrying that you’re computer will attack if you say it wrong is tied up in there somewhere.

Taken a week ago. A lot has happened in the last five days.

It’s starting to feel like a house. Roof is on. Windows and doors are in. Loft is finished, but needs a ladder. Deck is started. Green house is stripped, but the floor is a mess.  Wiring is run to receptacels, but not hot. Main water line is yet to be found. I’m traveling tomorrow, but back at it Friday and thru the weekend. Hopefully insulation next week. Then, does anyone feel good about hanging drywall?

*Dylan. One of the greats.

A few months ago, I read this poem on The Flyfish Journal’s Tailgate blog. And for one reason or another, it did it for me. Even though I’m not a dude, I’ve never snuck out of a wedding to swing a line, and I probably wasn’t part of this piece’s intended audience, it resonated. I found myself rereading the stanzas, passing the link to friends, and thinking about why, in general, when poetry usually fails for me this little poem worked.

What I came up with is this one is a story, and I am, and always have been a sucker for a story. I don’t want simple scenes, pretty as they may be, or one emotion, even if it rages. Even though I may languish in the language, at the end of the day I want a story. Something to take with me under the covers. I talisman against ennui. A tight little moment of action and character that bound together makes a world.

I’ve been reading more poetry of late, and while much of it falls flat, here and there I’m finding the unexpected. It makes me hope that traditional, non-literary-journal-type-media follow the lead of The FlyFish Journal in publishing bits of poetry. Not everyday and not all the time, but sometimes and with passion.

Work today meant hiking ten miles of the McKenzie River Trail in the snow and rain. I had five or six moments of, “I can’t believe this is what I get to do for a living.” I even said it a few times out loud. Em looked at me, as if to say, “Heck, yeah this is what we do!”

When we finally made it back to the car, I turned the heater on high for the first time this season, then drove the old 242 McKenzie Highway home through lava fields and alpine meadows dusted with white.

The hike is for a story that will come out in December. The Chanterelles, which I ended up carrying in my hat, are for some serious deliciousness.

From the National Weather Service Special Weather Statement:

…COOLER WEATHER WITH PERIODS OF RAIN EXPECTED THIS WEEK… A LARGE AREA OF LOW PRESSURE WILL MOVE INTO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST EARLY THIS WEEK. THIS WILL PRODUCE A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN THE WEATHER PATTERN. THE FIRST COLD FRONT WILL MOVE THROUGH LATE MONDAY WITH ANOTHER STRONGER ONE TUESDAY NIGHT INTO WEDNESDAY. THESE FRONTS WILL BRING PERIODS OF RAIN ALONG WITH HIGHER MOUNTAIN SNOW. TEMPERATURES WILL DROP BELOW SEASONAL AVERAGES WITH HIGHS IN THE 50S TO LOWER 60S BY WEDNESDAY. OVERNIGHT LOWS WILL BE IN THE 30S AND MID 40S.

Woke up to rain on the roof, and it took me a moment to figure out the tapping sound. Far from pouring, it was just enough to bring the dust down on the trails and make the air smell clean. Just enough to dampen the seats in the Subaru, reminding me that it’s time to start rolling up the windows at night, maybe take the keys out of the ignition.

Em was born in June and had a very Oregon summer. She’s never seen rain. I’m excited for snow.

At my last staff meeting I was asked to say some parting words, to share a bit about what I’ve learned in my tenure. They said it didn’t have to be much. I could keep it short and sweet.

I said:

“Thank you for sharing your days with me.”

“I love this work. Telling stories, shaping words, it’s one of the best jobs in the world.”

“Where not performing heart surgery. Remember it can be fun. Have a sense of humor and don’t take it, or yourself, so seriously.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wearing jeans to work.”

“Be the light. Be the person people want to share their work with, the person they trust to tell their story.”

“Spend more time outside. Talk to people in real life. Don’t just email. Walk over and say hello.”

“I’m very proud to have been part of this group.”

Then, I said goodbye. Here we go.