Gullkistan Residency, Week Two

It’s 9:30 AM, misty and gray here in Laugarvatn. Sitting at my desk this morning, I am wondering how I could possibly sum up a week full of writing, revising, and reading, not to mention exploring the breathtaking south coast of this fairy tale island. Instead of trying to share it all, I’ll keep this short and sweet. 

 

Found in the stream at the end of the dirt path I walk most afternoons.

 

It’s cloudy today, but yesterday it was clear-skied. My husband and I drove the countryside stopping for a late lunch and then onto Vík.

 

The countryside along Þjóðvegur.

 

Driving back to Laugarvatn, we saw two waterfalls. First was the enchanting Skógafoss.

 

Skógafoss

 

Gullfoss, the second waterfall we experienced, was an absolute wonder. I think my husband summed it up well when he said, “I feel like my soul is too big for my body.”

 

Gullfoss. Photo: Will Hattman

 

I’ve felt it too, at Gullfoss especially, but also during the quiet times—walking a dirt path to the stream in the afternoons, or when my husband reads me Raymond Carver poems in bed, or when a new story just flows because I have the time and energy to catch it, or having finally finished a full draft of a manuscript that I’ve been laboring over for a year—it has been sublime. I almost feel undeserving. 

 

The beautiful built environments of Iceland, or me going crazy trying to organize fragments of a personal essay?

 

Almost. Then, I remember applying for the residency a year ago (see Entropy as a good resource on writing residencies), teaching extra classes to afford the trip, writing the proposal for professional development funds, and so on. It is no easy thing to try to convince people (let alone yourself) that your project is the one worthy of support. But, I understand why it’s done and at some point in the process, little by little, I have started to feel more confident in what I’m trying to accomplish. 

 

Icelandic writers to read.

 

I started writing this entry this morning, but wanted to wait until evening to write the final paragraph. Now, it is 7:45 PM. It will take the sky three and a half more hours to darken. I can hear the other people in the studio collaborating and I feel grateful to be in this communal space with such talented, hard-working artists. There’s a line that I keep coming back to from the poem “Gaze” in Famia Nkansa’s chapbook, Sabbatical, that goes, “The best / dreams / are the / small ones, the sort one / sieves with / busy hands.” I love this idea that our dreams are made up of these small, everyday tasks—something that you can work on and towards, little by little, everyday. 

 

The black sands of Vík

 

 

New Blue

Ring: old, borrowed, and blue.

Recently, I attended a short class on memoir led by Scott Korb. Our assignment was to bring objects that were old, borrowed, and blue (Scott provided us with the ‘something new’). The class was mostly generative, but before we started writing we talked about how each person’s individual consciousness shapes their particular voice.

In retrospect, I found it freeing to write a personal essay that focused on specific objects. I learned to give myself over to the thing outside of myself. I followed the threads, allowing for chance comparisons to arise, and trusted that the connections would reveal themselves.

I appreciated that we wrote these pieces in a different order than the wedding rhyme from which this writing prompt is referencing. Below is what I wrote, unedited. I like the idea that this piece will live as a relic of the class.

OLD

The ring was passed down to her from another person, I know not who. It is old, though, aged in the way that only items passed down can be. It reminds me of the rings passed down in my family—the ones my great-grandmother made with her bare hands. But this ring is not of my family. It may or may not be my friend’s great grandmother’s ring, I do not know. I can see that it is old because the silver is tarnished. The teeth that grip the blue stone, sunken. I imagine this ring has known many hands, hands that are now of the earth.

BORROWED

These hands that are now of the earth ask after the ring. They ask my friend to pass it down as a type of remembrance. But my friend does not pass down, not today. She slips me the ring—she passes along, passes over. Her sharing is not a type of preserving, but a conversation. With an open palm, she says: “Here, take this.”

New: Post card provided by Scott.

NEW

In class, I study a post card. It is a photo of the Aging Cellars at Olympia Brewing Company. There are two rows of white tanks and two long, white hoses that snake over a shiny brick floor. Halogen lights and a grey door in the distance. Half-way down the line, a man, dressed in all white, holds a clipboard and examines a tank. He makes note of what he sees.

BLUE

My friend has just told me that she can’t hold it all—her many selves and the many people for whom she cares. She cannot store it. I take note. I sit next to her and give her my hand, drawn up from the earth. I say that I love her, but I’m late for a class, and I still need to find items that are old, borrowed, and blue. She slips the ring from her hand and says: “Here. Take this.”

Summer Retreat

Hello, friends:

drafts

I am delighted to report that I have returned from a brief summer writing retreat rejuvenated and inspired! A dear friend of mine, Tai Carmen, offered her beautiful home and office space (see above) for a two-person weekend writing intensive. The retreat proved to be wholly restorative and helped remind me that creative immersion and dialogue are necessary parts of the writing process. Whereas my winter retreat was generative in the amount of new work I produced, this summer retreat was regenerative. After working all winter and spring on writing/revising (as well as teaching, editing, and the daily work of life), I noticed my creative drive had depleted. It wasn’t until this retreat that I realized I hadn’t had an intensive, sustained creative exchange with another artist since graduating from Pacific University’s MFA program in 2009. Being able to spend a weekend engaging in meaningful conversations about writing/art/philosophy/life, sharing delicious meals, listening to music, and walking through the woods with a kindred writer did wonders to stimulate my creative mind. Understanding this, I will now make it a goal to book two retreats a year: one solitary, one collective.

Overall, it has been a summer full of writing, reading, music, and conversation. I was honored to discuss writing with Wayne Potter and fellow author and friend Neva Cavataio on Wayne’s radio program, Keeping Kurrent. You can listen to that interview here. I have been glad to have a little extra time to attend art events in Portland recently as well; I was wowed by the performances of Orquestra Pacifico Tropical and Gulls at PDX Pop Now!, and I also had the chance to attend two stunning readings/performances: (1.) Poetry Press Week, which showcased the wonderful work of Albert Goldbarth, Zachary Schomburg, Carl Adamshick, Julia Claire Tillinghast, KMA Sullivan, Chrys Tobey, Zubair Ahmed, and Veronica Martin; (2.) PURE SURFACE, a performance series that combines movement, text, and film, which highlighted excerpts from the beautiful and heartbreaking poem “Verso” by Brandi Katherine Herrera.

For fall, I plan to continue working on my new story collection, currently titled Fall Apart, which I started last winter and have been revising this summer. In addition, I will be starting my first term as a full-time writing instructor and faculty member at Chemeketa Community College and look forward to continuing to work with students and faculty.

And, with any luck, I will be able to take another writing retreat this winter!

Warm wishes and happy writing,

Alissa

Fruit in the Days of Darkness

winterorange

Fruit in the Days of Darkness

Greetings everyone,

Now that fall is over, and my teaching load has lightened, I am excited to get back to work on my own creative projects. In December, a friend generously lent me her tiny house for a three-day writing retreat.unnamed [If you are interested in this sweet little place, or the tiny house movement, visit aatinyhouse blog (a wonderfully written archive of April’s tiny house undertaking, complete with the nut-and-bolts practicality of the project, as well as philosophical, environmental, and literary insights into creating “new” from old).] The retreat prompted a whole new collection of short stories, which I will be working on in the coming months.

As always, Portland’s literary, music, and art communities are booming, and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by so many creative people. Specifically, I have been frequenting two reading series this past summer/fall: (1.) Bad Blood, an excellent poetry series that convenes in a wood/metal workshop, where word-craft mingles with the distant grinding of saws and the clanging of metal lathes, and (2.) Gridlords, a monthly comics performance and reading series which always offers fascinating, entertaining, and experimental works of image and text. I also remain a big PDX music fan, and recently downloaded a mass of awesome FREE local albums off Wants to Give You.  Deer or the Doe, Point Juncture, WA, Team Evil, Jana Osta, Swim Swam Swum, Pluvial. Check ’em out. It’s free! In addition, I was honored to help with some final edits on a script for the local musical, Aika & Rose: A Supernatural Star-crossed Teen Lesbian Love Story, which will be performed at Headwaters Theater January 16th – January 25th.

I was such a Gridlords follower that they kindly offered me a slot to read last summer. In addition to the reading, I had this wonderful conversation with Gridlordian Lillie Craw, where we discussed constraint and freedom in the creative process, superfluous writing rituals, and Foucault.

For this winter, I am excited to announce that I will continue teaching writing classes at Chemeketa Community College, while also working on this new collection of short stories that emerged during my short retreat. I even have a reading scheduled for soft show, on February 4th at the Blue Monk. If you are in Portland, I would love to see you there!

Take care, everyone, and let me know about the news in your world!

Best wishes,

Alissa