A Writer in Every Port

I’m not sure why I can’t stay put — why I always need to be planning the next trip to [insert destination here]. I adore my house on wooded acres, tucked into the hills above a tourist destination. Maybe I caught my grandad’s wanderlust that he caught from his dad’s work on the railroad. Maybe it’s genetics, stemming from the same urge that drove my ancestors to trade one continent for another. But it’s more likely a by-product of moving: having so many loved-ones in such a long string of scattered places. Social media is fine for keeping up with the facts of someone, but it’s no replacement for real-time bonding with someone over a shared meal. Even as a child, my parents made sure we traveled on what little discretionary funds we had to maintain the relationships that were important…relationships I would later rely on after my parents left for Africa.

So it’s no wonder that as an adult I followed their example. And once the internet created the ability to meet and collaborate with strangers-who-become-friends, my string of scattered people became a web that now spans oceans. Since 2009, I’ve made a point of meeting up with writer-friends whenever family-travel brings me into close proximity. I’ve shared pints with Mel Bosworth, toured the Louvre with Dorothee Lang, dined in Beacon Hill with Tim Bridwell, took Yorkshire tea with Samantha Priestley…and New York City? Rose Auslander, Casey Tingle, Elizabeth J. Coleman, Paco Márquez… These meet-ups play a critical role in a key component of my writing life: creative kinship.

Dinner at an Irish pub with Ben Moeller-Gaa in St. Louis

Creative kinship is what sparked the idea for my calligraphic treatment of Ben Moeller-Gaa’s haiku. His guidance on what is and isn’t appropriate for English-language haiku crossed-pollinated with my guidance on what is and isn’t reader-friendly book design. Our geeky discussions yielded a unique approach to a frequently mistreated poetic form. My practice of that approach over the course of four haiku poets’ collections has honed my calligraphic skills while giving me wabi-sabi instincts. Now I can’t write haiku to save my life, but I have enough awareness of their spirit to help another haiku/haibun poet, dt.haase, develop two works-in-progress. The only thing that could have beat dining with dt. one night and Ben the next on my latest train journey would have been for the three of us to dine together! Maybe someday…

Eating the world’s best pizza (Giordano’s) with dt.haase in Chicagoland

I’m sure it’s possible to write in seclusion and only share work with faceless entities, but I can’t imagine it’s much fun. Working for a press out of my home, writing at a desk in my home — the internet makes these possible. Having to drive an hour+ to engage with poets in real life, however, sometimes leaves me isolated. The creative kinships I’ve developed over the years have opened up collaborations that have taught me skills I never would have gained on my own. And it’s the endorphins that come from these intense, trusting partnerships that carry me through the long, dark January nights when the roads are too icy to attend Writers Night Out…or Down Cellar Poets…or Boston Bookbuilders…

If you have grown thanks to creative kinships, please share in the comments. How did you meet? Have you ever met in real life? What works of art exist in the world now because of your creative kinships?

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A Fire Not Quite Out

Last night I found out one of my childhood friends has no brain activity, but is still on life support. The news has left me distracted by the flames in our woodstove today: their gradual fade from tall yellow spires with blue arches to low orange bells, their surge back to yellow when my husband opens the damper, their decline into glowing coals once fuel is no longer added. As each log releases its energy to the fire, I wonder where the essence of Kim is — whether her soul is trapped on a hospital bed in Arkansas, or released to a cool Ozark breeze that will carry her home.

English doesn’t work for this. Its insistence on strict linear separation between past, present, and future makes it difficult to remember, let alone write about, someone caught between this world and the next. I’ve been fighting my internal dialog all day, forcing was into is the same way I did when my grandad’s dementia was at its peak. Verbs are loaded. The only safe Kim-words I can share right now are adjectives, nouns, and quotes — but only because I’ve stripped them of timeframe and explanation.

confidante
steady and gentle
“Why buy what you can make?”
church nursery
domestic artist
“That’s just not right.”
honor star
laughter

I’d like to tell you about the time she taught me how to make nuggets from whole chickens. Or the way she tolerated my teenage crush on her brother. But I’m afraid that too much past tense would slip out — the dangerous kind of past tense written with finality. A finality that’s too soon. A finality that isn’t right…won’t be right as long as Kim is.