AWP2015: But Seriously … Is It Time for More Humor in Environmental Writing?

Just today I received a funny email from the environmental magazine Orion. The subject seemed funny anyway: “The Parking Lot That Doubles as a Sponge.” It sounds like the setup for an old Saturday Night Live skit: “Shimmer! It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping!” The point is, there’s humor everywhere. Why not in environmental writing, too? That was the gist of this panel that met in a corner of the bowels of the Minneapolis Convention Center at …

AWP2015: But Seriously … Is It Time for More Humor in Environmental Writing?.

AWP 2014: The Ethics of Immersion

Select seat with view of lectern. Check.

Push Voice Memo button on phone. Check.

Scribble panel title in notebook. Check.

I’m ready. So are the five panelists facing me, and so are the 60+ audience members surrounding me. We are the researchers in Room 607.

“It’s a bit of an oddball role,” began moderator Ana Maria Spagna. She described the ethical challenges experienced while researching Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus, in which she explored her late father’s involvement in the Tallahassee bus boycott of 1957. The various people to whom she spoke had different and sometimes conflicting versions of the story, “as well as their own real lives and real pain,” she said. The crux became …

AWP 2014: The Ethics of Immersion.

AWP 2014: Books About Books: A Nonfiction Conundrum

It’s safe to say that a majority of AWP’s umpteen thousand attendees love books. If you’re like me, you love every aspect of them — the inked paper smell, the heft of the volume, the font, the cover design, the ideas born within the text, the potential for marginalia, the sound and feel of pages flipping beneath your thumb.

So if you’d seen …

Read the full post here: AWP 2014: Books About Books: A Nonfiction Conundrum.

How to ski to church


You saw it here first. Now, the extended dance version:

Originally posted on Thumbing Through:

1. Sign up for a weeklong cross-country ski adventure across the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec with minimal training and partial French. Do this with complete strangers, no friends or family along to comfort you in your cluelessness.

2. Once you realize your head is not going to explode from the rapid-fire Quebecois you are attempting to translate in the partial French you do understand, enjoy the nine-hour bus ride from Quebec City to the Parc national de la Gaspésie.  The snow-white countryside is beautiful.

3. Find a ski buddy among the mostly 50- and 60-year-olds, the great majority of whom will kick your 40-year-old marathon-trained ass on skis. Get over it, rapidement.

4. When you alone are responsible for forming a clog at a narrow descent from a country road to the Baie de Chaleur, the ice-covered bay over which you will ski, tuck and roll, baby. Tuck and roll.

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Time warps and not thinking about giraffes

Time doesn’t just fly when you’re busy. It warps. A Psychology Today blogger puts it this way: “Basically, the busier you are during a time interval, the faster that time interval will feel like it passed. That shouldn’t be surprising. We all know that time flies when you’re having fun. When you are cognitively busy, you are focused on each task you are performing, and so you don’t have the opportunity to notice the passage of time. As a result, the interval feels like it passes quickly. When you are bored, there is not much to occupy your time, and you are much more likely to think about the passage of time. So time feels like it passes slowly when not much is happening.”

Another way to warp time? Don’t think about giraffes. Don’t think about what color they are, how they smell at the zoo, how tall they are, or the sound they make when they’re grazing on nearby trees. Don’t think about where they are from, don’t think about anyone you know who likes giraffes so much that they collect them in an ever-shrinking corner of their home, and please do not think of them wearing striped cravats and monocles. Difficult, isn’t it? Pretty much the only way you’re going to prevent yourself from thinking about giraffes right now is by distracting yourself with something else. Occupy your mind with something else. Same thing with time, right? Keeping yourself occupied diverts you from thinking about the passage of time.

What is time but a fancy giraffe snacking on overhead foliage?

How do you warp time? What are your giraffes? A male giraffe is courting a female giraffe in...

Poseidon’s toes

Last week we wrote about souvenirs. This week I’m thinking not about the tokens of remembrance kept on purpose, so much as about the chingaderas, little whatchamacallems, that stick to you whether you want to remember them or not:

b4aa63b091c111e2802422000a9e0927_6The photo of the bygone-era fellow sitting hunched on a cardboard suitcase looking out at the most empty body of water you’ve ever known. The sky is cloudy over what I imagine to be the Salton Sea, which people will tell you is not empty at all, but rather full of salt and tilapia fish and hundreds of bird species living in the wetland.

The snippet of overheard conversation at the hair salon: “The drawer broke so she took it home to fix it.” The woman came into the salon in the afternoon bearing what looked like a box of cake. Or, at least, that’s what I wanted it to be. The marathon-training has been ramping up, and large boxes of cake are popping into my imagination a lot lately. I’m not proud to admit driving to the grocery store last Saturday specifically to buy three slices of bacon and a wedge of peach pie.

A cherry-sized blue rubber whale with a yellow flower behind its eye has found its way onto my desk. An eraser, the tiny creature has managed to erase from my memory its origins. On top of that, I fished out a pencil to use just so the whale would have a purpose. “The poet play upon the feet,” I’ve pencilled onto a nearby envelope. No idea what that originally meant, but now I conjure a colossal statue of Homer Simpson as Poseidon, with bespectacled folk laying down cards among his mossy toes.  “Uno!” one of them shouts, knocking the trout-speckled Warby Parkers clean off her pale face.

Ready to give it a go? Give yourself a couple days or more to collect images, photographs, small objects, lines of poetry that you’ve written, passages from other writers’ work, morsels of overheard conversations. With your collection, sit down and lay out each thing around you. Use the things you’ve collected as the ingredients for a poem or nonfiction vignette. If Homer Simpson or sheet cake or the Salton Sea cross your pages as well, let me know.

*From Poets & Writers “The Time Is Now,” March 8, 2012