Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Writing Fridays ROCK!

Look what I got in the mail! The latest copy of my favorite journal...

My favorite journal...
 And look what's inside, RIGHT THERE in the table of contents:

Hey, that's MY name!

Yup, that's my work. Written by me. Researched by me. Revised by me. Sent to people who gave me awesome feedback. Revised again by me. Rethought by me. Revised some more by me. Agonized over by me. It was a long and arduous process, but I am so excited to have a published article in my favorite journal, among writers and scholars whose work I admire. I couldn't be more pleased.

And I have to put in a plug here for Writing Fridays because y'all: THEY WORK.

A couple years ago, I manipulated my class schedule so that instead of teaching five days a week, I started teaching four days a week and working at home on writing projects on Fridays. 

This was not a thing I was supposed to do. I invented a time slot in the class schedule that didn't exist so that I could make my MWF classes MW classes instead (for longer time slots). I was kind of breaking the rules, and going against what I'd been told when I was hired (that I needed to be on campus five days a week). I definitely felt like a few people on campus disapproved, particularly when I let people know I would not be available on Fridays for meetings, either. 

I have a really hard time doing things that people--especially peers and mentors--disapprove of. (Understatement Alert!) But in order to be productive--to do the hard work of thinking, writing, revising--I needed a big block of quiet time, and a place where I could dive in and go deep. I still do, actually, and post my Writing Friday updates on FB as part of keeping myself accountable for putting in the time and effort during the school year, when I'm exhausted and overscheduled and everything is urgent and needs my attention. Writing Friday is a way of making space in that whirling vortex of crazy to listen for my own voice.

Revising with tea in a most excellent mug.

Of course, it isn't all about me. Even as I find the space to work in quiet, I am part of a network of people whose talent and generosity makes my work possible. I need to take a moment here to say:

-- thank you to Heid E. Erdrich, whose poetry is so compelling that I wanted to write about it, to find a way to express why I think it's so important. (Go read her work, y'all, and don't forget to click on the links for the video poems.)
-- thank you to SAIL editor Chad Allen, plus the anonymous readers who read my submission and who challenged me to do some revisions that made the resulting work so much stronger.
-- thank you to Nancy Comorau, who is my writing buddy and is always encouraging and full of smart ideas, no matter how messy my drafts are.
-- thank you to Amber Nabers, a student whose paper helped to spark mine; teaching really does lead to learning when you have thoughtful, engaged students like Amber.
-- thank you to Dee Peterson, who shared her resources about museum history with me.
-- thank you to the clan mothers and brothers of the Native American Literature Symposium, where in March 2012 I presented the germ of the idea that led to this article. 

I will always be grateful that these beautiful people, most of whom I count as friends now, encouraged me and challenged me and welcomed me and held my feet to the fire. They helped me find my voice again after a long silence, and I can never fully express my gratitude for that. They helped me find the courage to sing again. I think they kind of saved my life a little bit. Yes, I'm sure of it.

May you find something that helps you sing!

Cheers,
Karen

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

An explanation of sorts

I came to D.C. this past weekend for the Hawai'i Cultural Festival at the NMAI, and my goodness, it was wonderful! It was kind of crazy to take off and drive for hours and hours just after 3 days of post-grading school work (2.5 days of meetings and a half day of other chores). But I really wanted to see the events planned around the theme: The Journey of Pele and Hi'iaka.

This is the epic tale of the Indigenous people of Hawai'i, around which so much of their culture revolves. I enjoyed everything the museum presented--craft demonstrations, children's stories, food, and of course music and chant and hula. My goddess, the hula was healing. Within a few hours I was remembering what it felt like to be in Hawai'i, and able to recall words I learned last year. Much of what I saw was very moving and inspiring.

I also decided to stay a few days extra but not really tell anyone (except Mom, of course, and brother Tom, whose place I've been staying at, and Patrick and Dexter back home). I felt like I needed a few days to myself--alone in the city, retracing some of the steps of my old life here, walking places, noticing and observing, looking for beautiful things. But not meeting with friends.

I felt like I would not be good company. I've been feeling a little crispy around the edges after this year of teaching, and I'm in need of some quiet time. As much as I love my friends, I did not feel up to interacting. It kind of hurts me to admit this, as if it is a kind of weakness. And I don't want people to think I'm being cold. But I felt I had to go with what my gut has been telling me.

Part of all of this, too, is facing some questions that have come up in mid life (right on schedule, or maybe even a few years late). Nothing surprising: what does the next chapter look like, after retirement? Where will we live? What will I do? My job, which I love, also takes so much out of me, to the point where I wonder if I can do it for another 15 years. But what would I do if I didn't teach? How could I not do the job it took me so many years and so much hard work and a lot of luck to get? How could I live without that feeling I get when I know I have helped someone grow and learn and see things in a new way?

Today is my last day here. After two days of sweltering heat and humidity, it's beautiful. I will go to the National Gallery of Art; my goal is to sit in front of some of the landscape paintings and... just sit. And look. And try not to worry. And give in to my not knowing.

Wishing you beauty and love,
Karen

P.S. Later on I will update this post with some pictures. It looks kind of bare without them, but I wanted to get this here in a hurry before I head out the door.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Silent poetry reading for the Feast of Saint Brigid, 2015

Dear friends,

As I have noted in past years, Feb. 2nd is the Feast of Saint Brigid, goddess of the forge, patron saint of midwives, and lover of poetry. I am participating in the "Silent Poetry Reading" in her honor by posting a poem on my blog.

For this year, I've chosen a poem by Margaret Noodin, reprinted here with her permission. (Thanks, Meg!) You'll notice that the poem is in Ojibwe and English; Meg writes in both. She does amazing and inspiring work on the study, preservation, and revival of Ojibwe language and culture. Check out the videos and sound recordings at ojibwe.net for beautiful and fun stories.

Even though it's icy cold today, and winter feels endless, pretty soon it will be time to tap the maple trees (at least here in Ohio) and harvest spring's sweetness.

"Dibiki-Ziigwaagaame (Night Syrup)"

Ziigwaagame n'daagwaagominaan
I stir syrup into

Makademashkikiabo miinwaa
coffee                          and

kwejimdizo, "Wenesh e-naagamig
I ask myself      "What

dibikiziigwaagame?"
does night syrup taste like?"

Gete-misaabe-zekwekik ina?
The ancient iron kettle?
Giiwedinong giizhik ina?
Northern cedar?
Zagaswans ina?
A bit of smoke?
maage
or
Enangwiiganing aandeg ina?
The wing of a crow?
Moozo akiianzo shkijigan ina?
The brown eye of a moose?
Shki miikans-maamad tigwaking ina?
A new path in the woods?
Ode noondan abita-dibikong ina?
Hearing a heart beat at midnight?

Miidash nsostooyaanh
And then I understand

wiishkobii-kade-aagamide
sweet    dark syrup

bimaadiziwin e-naagamig.
tastes like life.


I hope you enjoy more poetry today, and the returning of the light.

Cheers,
Karen

P.S. This poem can be found in the excellent collection Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas, ed. Allison Adelle Hedge Coke (U of Arizona Press, 2011), which is available at Birchbark Books.



Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy new year!

It's January 1, 2015. We made it through another year, woohoo!

In years past, I've thought about and wanted to do some of the traditional things a person does on December 31st and January 1st, but this year is the first time I've had the energy to do them. In this post I'll focus on the cleaning, which you're supposed to do on December 31st to get the old year out of the house.

We did indeed sweep last year's worries out of all the rooms and out the back door. (One room needed vacuuming, too, but we're counting that as sweeping.) It felt good. As I swept, I kept thinking: I can let it go, let the worries of yesterday go out the door with these dust bunnies.

But there was something else, too, something kind of unexpected.

A couple of days before the 31st, I suddenly had the urge to go through some of the stuff in my study, a room that used to be our den. (Last year we moved the teevee out, got a big teevee for the front room for Christmas, and converted our little-used living room into a place where we actually hang out--for reading as well as teevee-watching). It was a big change! And my office went from a corner of the living room to the den--a whole room in the house just for me, with a door that shuts and a couple places to sit and work on writing or reading. I'd been wanting that for years, and it feels wonderful to have it, finally.

The problem was that we moved stuff in kind of a hurry, and then there was a cat peeing issue (which might be resolved now, I hope I hope), and it still looked like a mess, a year after the original shift.

I did not put "clean my study" on my to-do list for the winter break, though I thought about it. In fact, I ended up not even making a list; it felt too confining. I survive the semester by making week-by-week lists of all the things that have to get done. I live in fear of forgetting deadlines and such, so the list is necessary. It's even pleasurable to check things off the list, during the semester. But I just couldn't bring myself to make a list for this week.

Instead, I just asked myself, each day: what do I want to do today? What do I feel like doing? What will make me feel happy with this day?

And one day the answer was: clean up some of this mess.

At first I just limited myself to a couple areas; no way was I tackling the whole dang room. Good thing, too, because of course the next thing that happened was that it looked like a worse disaster than it already was. I started to sort through things and make piles and gather things to be given away, things to be recycled, things to be put somewhere else in the house... and it looked like all that stuff had exploded.

(Too bad I didn't take any "during" photos! But really, I could hardly bear to look at the mess, it was so disheartening.)

But I kept at it, and things started to look better, at least to me.

Here are before & after photos of the corner built-in shelf. It probably only looks better to me; the stuff I had crammed on three shelves is now on four.




Before: a bit more crammed and crowded.
After: now I can see stuff!







Before: the cardboard boxes may be practical, but they're depressing.
And then the next day, I thought: okay, I'd like to tackle one more area--a couple shelves, a corner, a box. On the last day I tackled my desk and the bookshelf next to it. There is actually empty space on my desk now, where before there were piles of stuff, some of it stacked precariously.



After: okay, still not exactly beautiful, but sorted, at least. I'll get some nice organizational thingies next time we go to Ikea...
With all those bits of time added up, I now have a study where I've gone through everything, sorted it all out, kept what I want in here, and moved or tossed what should not be here.

It almost feels as if I were carrying that unwanted stuff around with me and I've now dumped it. I feel lighter, somehow, when I sit and work on something in my office. It's really lovely.

I think if I had made a to-do list and put "clean my study" on it, and tried to do it all in one day so I could cross it off the list, it would not have gone as well. I would have ended up resenting the task, and not enjoying the result nearly as much. I'm so glad I let myself enjoy the process, and the result.

Oh, and one other thing. Here's a really good way to feel loved as you turn into a new year: find a pile of notes and cards people have sent you over the years, and read them as you sort the piles, and wonder if your sniffles are from the dust you've started up, or the tears that inevitably come.

Happy new year, everybody!
Karen

Friday, December 19, 2014

Feminist toast

I make feminist toast nearly every morning. Well, technically, it's feminist English muffin.



Let me explain.

Years ago, when I was a young feminist, I saw an episode of a 1950s sitcom--something like Father Knows Best or Leave It to Beaver. You know, those idealized versions of life in the 1950s that were on endless syndicated repeat in the 1970s.

There's a lot in those shows that would feed my young feminist ire back in the day, sure, but this one time I witnessed something I've never forgotten. The husband/dad is fixing the toaster (apparently, men in the 1950s knew how to do such a thing). He's noting that the wire is broken because the wife/mom has been pulling the cord rather than the plug. She should not do this, however, because it's dangerous and, as evidenced by the state of the toaster, can break the thing.

It wasn't so much the message as the way he talked to her. The tone in his voice was scolding, annoyed, and imperious. He spoke to her as if she had no brains in her head, as if she were stupid.

I realized, even then, that this sitcom moment revealed a lot about the times--about the absolute assumption that men were smarter, more able, more adult, and that women were some kind of secondary human. It was a throwaway moment in the show, something meant to communicate how normal the couple's relationship was, and yet I knew there was something wrong even if I didn't yet know the word "dysfunctional." I vowed to myself: I will never be with a man who would speak to me like that.

Some mornings, when I'm making my breakfast (which includes a whole-grain English muffin), I remember that scene. And I grasp the toaster wire instead of the plug and pull the damn thing out of the outlet.

Take that, patriarchy.

I hope you enjoy a moment of rebellion today.
Karen



Friday, October 10, 2014

We do this for the water

Inspired by Sharon Day* and the women who walk to the rivers and sing and pray blessings to them every week,** I've been walking to the Olentangy River the past couple of Sundays. It's been a great opportunity to get outside and walk, to see a beautiful spot right in my little town, and to remember the ways in which I'm connected with all around me.

Looking downstream, Olentangy River
As my friend Pomegranate says: all water touches all water.

Clouds on the river
When I stand by the river and make my offerings, I imagine sending blessings to all my loved ones who live so far away--that despite the miles between us, we are connected through the water, and I can touch them and be touched by them as I pray and sing.

Looking upstream, Olentangy River
The river is beautiful. So beautiful that recently our city put up a swing on its banks for people to stop and sit and enjoy watching the water go by.

Looking across the Olentangy
I've really enjoyed noticing the changes that come with the change in seasons, looking around at the trees and grass, smelling the change in the air, listening to the birds and bugs and wondering about their winter preparations.

This woolly bear caterpillar was so fuzzy
I couldn't get a sharp picture of him (ha!)

Delicate and hearty diasies
Water is life.

On campus--a reminder of the gift
I'm glad to see that there are people in my community who are looking after the river and helping it be healthy: the Olentangy Watershed Alliance. I hope to be able to join in on their activities soon!

At first I thought it was a plastic bag... It's a SNAKESKIN!
Time to shed our skins and grow into something new...
Water, we thank you. Water, we respect you. Water, we love you.

Cheers,
Karen

*Back in 2013, Sharon Day and others walked the length of the Mississippi River to raise awareness and speak out on behalf of the health of the longest, most storied river in the United States. THEY WALKED THE LENGTH OF THE MISSISSIPPI, Y'ALL. And that's not the only river Sharon has walked. Back in the spring of this year, I met my friend Martha in Cincinnati and we joined Sharon and a few others to walk along the Ohio River for a day. It was an amazing experience.

We walked in relay style, each person taking a turn of .6 or .8 of a mile, walking FAST--about 3 or 4 miles per hour, about the same as the speed of the river. And we were to move like the river--never stopping, never turning back, always moving forward (even when we handed off to the next walker). And as we walked, we prayed for the river, or just thought about it real hard, or sang to it. We carried an eagle feather and a copper bucket of water gathered from the beginning point of the river, the bucket covered with a beautiful cloth (and a GPS tracker attached to its handle). We made about 30 miles that day, passing more coal-fired power plants than I ever would have imagined along the waterway that supplies so many people with drinking water.

Liquid is heavy; a gallon of milk from the grocery store sometimes seems tricky to lift and maneuver. But on that day, the water bucket was light. On one of my turns, I noticed that it felt like carrying a baby--a burden, yes, but a sweet one. Sometimes I would hear a little slosh in the bucket. It felt like the water was talking to me, encouraging me.

I'm so grateful for the women I walked with that day: Sharon Day, Martha Viehmann, Barb Baker-LaRush, Lee Taylor, Tracey Gokey Jones, Laura Gokey Koehler, and Judith (whose last name I did not get). Laura brought her son Trevor, who carried the eagle staff, and Laura & Tracey discovered that their parents are from the same reservation as Barb's parents and they have ancestors in common. "All my relations," yes.

** If you'd like to keep up with Sharon's river adventures and see photos of the different places where people all over North America are praying for the water each Sunday, log in to Facebook and go to the "Mississippi River Water Walk 2013" page. It's got information on Sharon's current project, which is walking the St. Louis River. If you'd like to support Sharon's projects, go to Nibi Walk's donation page. Sharon does all of this on a shoestring budget, making do and being careful with resources. (She is also the director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, a group in Minneapolis doing amazing work.)

It's inspiring and strengthening, in the face of a serious lack of attention to water issues by people in power (or, worse, a tendency to enact policies that favor corporations over water health and human health and earth health), to see that there are some people who are remembering the water and trying to do things to help.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Silent poetry reading: Natasha Trethewey

Today, February 2nd, is the feast of St. Brigid. To mark the day, I'm joining others in the "Silent Poetry Reading" that takes place in the blogosphere this time each year. I've decided to include a poem by Natasha Trethewey, our Poet Laureate, whom I met last year at my school (and briefly 10+ years ago--as I left the Emory campus to move to Ohio for my job, she had just arrived as a new professor). I love her work.

I chose this poem because the topic of "home"--our theme in my freshman writing class as well as the women's literature class I'm teaching this semester--has been on my mind lately. Home and memory, and figuring out what those things are, keeps coming back in my own writing.

Enjoy. I hope you have occasion to read poetry. Every day, if possible.

Cheers,
Karen

"Theories of Time and Space," by Natasha Trethewey

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on the mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory,
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return.