Friday, May 30, 2008

event: 1000 cranes with a twist

Come to T'AI CHI for 1,000, Saturday, 10 AM South Waterfront Park (Portland, OR).

An amazing event to be part of: hundreds of
first-timers, tried-it-oncers, and experienced
practicers - moving together to celebrate community, spring, and the human spirit. . .


Getting There:

Street Car - South Waterfront Direction, Last Stop

Bike or Walk or Drive -
South on Naito Parkway,
Left on Harrison( follow Street Car track)
Right on Moody, Pass Aerial Tram to Gaines

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Anthology Release Party

Last night I attended another Write Around Portland anthology release party and reading. Wow; again. This organization is amazing in their vision, their ability to carry out that vision, and their commitment to the community in which they live and in the communities their create with their writing workshops.

The evening to celebrate the completion of another round of workshops which gave voice and built another community of writers was a success for participant and listener alike. Each 10-week session of 15-17 groups Write Around Portland runs, concludes with this celebration, in which all participants have the option to read their piece in the publication. The individual writings cover nearly every genre; some made me laugh, some brought tears, some made me remember and some made me thankful. Each one touched me in some way. You can read more about the content and process of the programs here.

The staff of Write Around Portland run this celebration very skillfully and smoothly. Not a single participant nor facilitator nor audience member has any inkling of the amount of work that has been poured into making sure each person who decides to read their piece is a star for those two minutes. The staff's confidence and calm, their ability to support and organize, makes this a night of pleasure for everyone. And especially the participants, who each receive a copy of the publication with their piece included.

The readings last night were amazing and the courage and strength of everyone involved apparent. I feel both humble and proud to be a part of the volunteers who support the writers - on the staff and in the workshops.
Each session also spotlights one writer and a line from his or her selected piece is used as the title for the anthology. The featured writer for the newest anthology, A Rare and Necessary Time, is Reuben Alvarez-Paris. You can read his entry on the Write Around Portland website, as well as an interview.

Monday, May 26, 2008

what you say ... part II

In part I I talked about the Commissario Brunetti series book I was reading, The Girl of His Dreams, written by Donna Leon. Part I focused on how language is used in the books and in life to help place people in relation to each other and in relation to place. There is another use of language in the books which I also found myself contemplating between readings.

The books take place in Venice - at least most of the stories are there, though they may venture to other places in the course of investigations. Brunetti was born and raised in Venice and continues to live and work there. The books are written in English, and yet the characters are speaking Italian and Venezian (part I of this discussion focused on Venezian as an indicator of status).

As I read the books, I totally believe they are speaking Italian and I am somehow able to understand them. I don't speak Italian. I don't flinch when Brunetti and a character are having a conversation, visually on the page in English, and I read Brunetti saying that he responded in Venezian to test the credibility of the other person. It flows, no disconnect, even though I see English. This book, and previous ones in the series, are written so that I believe I'm witnessing and comprehending the story taking place in a language I don't know.

One thing I've been trying to notice is how Leon uses language to give that illusion. I wonder how the decision is made about which Italian words to leave "as is" and if there a conscious decision about how many of them should be included.

I don't think there is so much Italian that a reader would feel a need to skip over part of the story or put down the book to look it up, being stopped by language. It seems there is just enough to keep that connection to place.

And I wonder: how much language does it take to be rooted to place? How many ciaos, campos, grazies, commissarios, and other Italian words need to be sprinkled for the reader to feel like they are among the Venetians? How many more would it take to cross a line to feel forced and ktichy-cute? Did someone actually figure this out and count them or is it a developed ear for what constitutes "just right?"

What are some other authors who write "in the native language" from the characters' perspective, yet what appears on the page in the original is English? I'm also curious if others have a similar experience to these stories.
above photo by Ian Blair Hamilton

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Random Thought #2

Plugging in to unplug from the hamster race.

...iPods/mp3 players as we walk, drive, work, eat, sit in class, chat with friends...
...cyborgs with bluetooth ...
...cell phones, smart phones, iPhones, Chocolates (why *are* they called that?), Razrs, Blackberrys; IM, txt, emoticons; push technology...
...always on, always available...
...students balking at an assignment to walk around the neighborhood for an hour without being plugged in to any technology, looking for examples in the community...
...wondering who called and didn't leave a message...
...calling back a wrong number so we don't miss something...
...parallel conversations of bus riders waiting at the stop, as if they were sitting alone in their living room with some privacy...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

cultural equivalents

...really, I'm not making this up...

Portland, Oregon

weekend brunch (by yourself or with a group of friends)

meeting for coffee

Anchorage, Alaska

hunting for bear
(or talking about your friend who did if you didn't win the bid to get one of the few coveted licenses)

dip netting

Sunday, May 18, 2008

found: kup'it language

I had the opportunity to go to the Anchorage Museum for their 40th birthday & expansion celebration. The special exhibit, Yuugnaqiallerput, was about the Kup'it (kupiit) in northern Alaska. The exhibit was alive with culture, life, dance, and celebration. And language. Below are some phrases I wrote down which touched me in some way as I wandered and looked and watched.

How does this relate to writing? Because it's language. Each trip I take I find myself being exposed to new pieces of this world and this country where I live. And I am picking up pieces of language, be it other uses of words I know or, as in this case, a unique language on its own. And I see where we overlap or compliment or how, as in Kup'it, a whole idea is embodied in a word or two. And my sense of the world and the choices I have to make while writing are bigger, more open. Potentially more colorful. Who knows, maybe a future story will include a character meeting someone who it Kup'it or running across a phrase on an old piece of wood stuck in the snow as he snowmobiles in several miles to catch a glimpse of the Iditarod....

Alfred Milotte, Alaska State Museum
Pair of masked dancers performing at Hooper Bay in 1946

Cat Tamarmeng Elpengqertut : all things have awareness (One of my favorites)

Kenekngamceci Qanrutamceci: we talk to you because we love you

Qanruyutet: words of wisdom and instruction

Tuvqakiyaraq Kalukaryaraq-llu: sharing food and feasting

Aruqutkat: gifts

Tuaten-gguq ayuqellria tuvquyutuli cali ingna erneq aipirluku unguvaaqut: they say those who are generous with food are given another day to live. (Paul John, Toksook Bay)

Cauyarnariuq: time for drumming

Agayuyaraq: requesting abundance (at the final winter ceremony; involves singing songs of supplication to the animals' yuit [their persons])

Ciimat: stones

Kenngessuutet: a fire-making tool - nasal mucus was smeared on the edge of the fireband, which made the fire start right away

Yuungnaqpiallerput: The Way We Genuinely Live

Friday, May 16, 2008

it's not what you say but how...part I

I'm currently reading The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon. This is the most recent of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, all of which take place in Venice. Brunetti is a member of the native Venetian minority. He was born and raised in Venice, and is one of the few who can speak true Veneziano, complete with the Veneto cadence, and is able to recognize others who are of this dwindling group. Their knowledge and use of this language provides a shared intimacy and connection on one level, even if they do not interact with other members of this group on a daily basis. This issue of language within the stories plays out not only between the characters (who can and can't speak the language, or who may attempt it but their cadence or misuse of a word gives them away as an outsider), but also between reader and writer.

Later I want to talk about my perceptions of how the reader is participant in the intimacy of Veneziano and some specific language features of the writing. What I first was thinking of was use of language as a cultural identifier to show membership of a group or affiliation with a particular subculture of a group.

Thinking about this led me to think how an association by language also occurs within the Deaf community, which can include interpreters and other non-family hearing people who sign. This was not news - but I did gain a new perspective on Commissario Brunetti when I made the connection, and, conversely, on the function of true American Sign Language (ASL) as an identifier within the larger Deaf culture. I remembered two incidents where my signing style was commented on by people who are deaf, which placed me in a context for them.

In one situation, the person who is Deaf asked me if I knew DL, because my signing was very much like hers. DL is Deaf and was one of my early ASL instructors, and my ASL linguistic instructor when I was in the interpreter training program. This person knew DL and respected her, and when I told him she was one of my teachers when I was first learning, I had an "in" by association. The other example was after interpreting a concert. A few days later, I ran into one of the audience members who was deaf. He asked me if I knew TB, who was very well known in this area for music inerpretation. And, again, the person was right on target! TB was my first ASL instructor and had a strong influence on me going on the become an interpreter. He was also an influence and mentor for me on music interpreting. The audience member liked TB so, again, I was "in" due to a connection by language which went beyond me using ASL.

Once again the old saying is true: It's not what you say but how you say it!
Venice photo by Kevin Ashbrook
- - - - - - - - - NOTE - - - - - - - - -
When I wrote the beginnings of this post, I was on a plane to Alaska and hadn't yet looked up "Veneziano" to find out the facts beyond what I'd read in the Brunetti books, despite having read
most of the books of the series over several years. When I returned home, I did look it up and found the following on a
Venetian language resources website:

"Venetian or Venetan is a Romance language spoken by over two million people, mostly in the Veneto region of Italy. The language is called vèneto in Venetian, veneto in Italian; the variant spoken in Venice is called venesiàn/venessiàn or veneziano, respectively. Although commonly referred to as an Italian dialect (dialeto, dialetto), even by its speakers, it does not descend from the Italian language but has its own morphology, syntax and lexicon."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca reading his poem, All She Ever Wanted Was Peace, at Def Poetry, Season 3 Episode 4.


what is it?
how do i get it?
do i want it?
do we all get to play with it?

can we all be empowered simultaneously?
update: I started this post by making a few comments to remind myself what I wanted to talk about. Then time goes on, as time tends to do, and I returned to see my notes and starts of posts and, well, I don't remember how this one started.

Certainly I have been contemplating the issue of power. Who has it and what it means and how some of us sometimes have misconceptions of what it means to have power and, maybe, believe that if I have power then someone else doesn't have power. And wonder about how we can all be empowered in a positive and healthy way and remove the scarcity thinking.

So, however this idea came about, it is still here as something to consider. And I wonder how to show that in stories without using the word power or empowerment. How to show who has the power and who doesn't or what may not look like power may be a position of power. But not to fall into common traps or contrived situations so the reader is left yawning.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

rejection slips

Just a thought....

In the April 2008 The Writer magazine, author Tom Miller Juvik wrote the article, "Build an Effective Strategy for Short Stories." There were many tidbits of information I circled and starred, and I enjoyed his honest and lighthearted tone. One section I especially liked deals with rejection letters from potential publishers. He said that in order to turn rejection into success, it is important to "understand that there are four main reasons why a story fails to make the cut:
  • It might not be good.
  • It could use more work before it is ready for publication.
  • It doesn't fit the needs of the publication.
  • The editor is out of his gourd."

Monday, May 5, 2008

universal specificity

Last weekend "The Book of Dahlia" author, Elisa Albert, was interviewed on NPR's Weekend Edition. Even though I was driving at the time, I did write down one quote which leaped out of the radio and I've been thinking about for a few days, now. Albert said, "Fiction makes the universal specific."

At the time it seemed profound and important - and I think it still is, but it does not seem as clear as it did in that moment.

As I was thinking about it more, I started to feel confused. This little phrase started to seem reversed. I swear I've heard something different: that writing/art makes the specific universal. So which is it? The more I think, the more it seems to not make sense. So I opted to write about it in the hope of finding a little clarity.

I've been taught or have otherwise learned that one goal of writing is to take the personal or a specific event and present it in a way that those who weren't there, or who have never experienced the big X, can understand. In other words, to take the specific and make it universal.

I don't remember the entire context of Albert's quote - a fortunate in terms of safety and unfortunate in terms of quoting side effect of driving while listening to the radio. But I do remember having an understanding when she said "fiction makes the universal specific." My sense of what it means is that writers take the assumptions and beliefs of the time and culture in which they live and put that into a specific setting and character. So one group of information is associated with one character and another set with a second character, and so on. Add a place and a little conflict; stir or shake according to the genre and, voila, a story with a plot.

This makes me think of my friend and fellow writer, A. He and I were talking one day several months ago and he mentioned getting ready to write a story, except he said "apply a treatment." At the time, I wasn't sure what he meant entirely, but I had the gist of it. And I thought, "hmm, that's different."

Coming from a poetry and short story perspective, I tend to be more intuitive and writing from the heart. I throw out a little something I've seen or heard or made up in my head and let the characters tell their story. The idea that a writer would pick something and apply a treatment, was not a concept I used nor had any interest in trying. And it was another concept I kept thinking about and noticing when it came up here and there. Male and female difference? Screenwriter/fiction writer versus Poet/fiction writer? Or maybe a knee-jerk reaction to a semantic difference which is not so far from what we all do, anyway?

So, which did come first: the specific or the universal? As I thought, what came to mind were the old fashioned paper dolls, the ones with tabs on their clothes; or clothes and roles like barrels to put on and take off depending on what happens in the story.

I still bristle a bit at "applying a treatment," but it's minor. And I'm not still clear about the chicken and egg question of universality and specificity.

Right now, all I'd want to do it let them roll around in my mind like, as Natalie Goldberg said, "pearls in a silver bowl." I'm sure the topic will surface again and we'll see what my thinking is when they do.

details from
The Mona Lisa Paper Doll
one in a series of Art Paper Dolls
by Serena Barton
Center top paper doll image
from All Things Chrstmas

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Found: thoughts on openness

From Zen Howl by Natalie Goldberg and Dosho Port.

what if..."the busy, confused, distressed mind is a false state of being [which distracts us from] tasting the natural harmonies of life"...?

Sometimes we have "fear in the moment of full expression - the zen howl - that fear [can act] as a barrier to that open space...". The goal of practice is "to realize fully the moment that is presented."

My question: what if we are present in the moment and in contact with our mode of expression? What do we feel in that open space of being?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Aha: teleology & deontology

There is a new - or, more correctly, a modified to fit sign language interpreting - theory which tosses around the words "deontology" and "telelogy" like everyone just knows what they mean and can distinguish between the two.

I finally had them explained in a way which made sense to me and I think, finally, I get it! I know this new understanding is just the rudiments of what they represent - but it makes some sense now. The theory for interpreting is ... well, let me back up and explain why I'm talking about them here, on my writing blog, which is not about interpreting.

As writers, these are the dilemmas we write about and explore in everything we do. We look at what happens when these two views collide and places where they overlap or where our characters are forced to think outside of their own box.

And I wonder how these two types of ethical reasoning play out in the business and the process of writing.

These two approaches look at *how* ethical situations are evaluated and decisions are made. The resultant action (which may be inaction) is not determined by the type of ethical reasoning used. In my training this weekend, we were shown an example where the decision made by one of the parties was exactly the same, although she used a teleological approach one time and a deontological approach the other.

At the most basic form, teleology is determining the course of action by primarily considering the consequences of the actions, while deontology is determining the course of action by primarily considering the rules and principles involved. Hmmm, very interesting. I found an expanded version of this explanation on for deontological ethics and for teleological ethics.

What if we are writing a story with a teleologically oriented protagonist who works for a large corporation with a boss prone to deontological reasoning? Could a little of that creative tension we want be in that dynamic? Or if we are a writer who writes from intuition with a protagonist who bends expectations and morals a little in the name of justice - yet the market we are aiming for carries around a rule book? Can we let each other follow his or her own process, knowing that the end results would be the same if the process were different? Does this mean we are all striving for the same answers and it's the road we're following to get there which is different?

photograph by Serena Davidson

Not a new idea, I know, and not that this is an either/or nor value-laden system. But somehow the discovery of definitions which make sense shed new light on the possibilities. A window was opened and I felt a breeze of creativity blow through, thick with the possibility of teleological and deontological perspectives in delicious vibrant conflict.

And the telelogical and deontological discussions seem to be very strongly related to language, another "big duh," I know, *smile*. But I have witnessed times where a disagreement is really an argument based on a different semantic understanding - and now I will watch for a consequences versus rules understanding. Which weaves this discussion back to sign language interpreting - my other profession, based on linguistics and concepts, rather than the form.

It will be interesting to see where further consideration of this idea leads.