Archive for the ‘Homer town’ Category
You’d rather write about the charming side of your town, and for the most part you do. But this week your town has shown its not-so-charming side. Two brothers aged eighteen and twenty were arrested for sexual assault. A number of other young people are afraid that they might be next because they were at the party where the alleged assault took place—with cameras in hand. A young person was victimized; his life altered. And so you want to write about your town and what it’s going through because people are shaken up about it. But where do you start? Your children are the same age as these children. They’ve known some of them since preschool.
You want to write about the mother you spoke to today whose fourteen-year-old daughter was groped at her first high school dance, a place you’d expect her to be safe. You want to write about how strange it is, adolescence. How that window of time between trading Pokemon cards and being hormonally charged is so small, so small that you barely have time to catch your breath. You want to talk about this terrible thing that happened in your town like it’s an isolated incident but this is nothing new and your town is not unique. You write about your town and you write about every town and a culture that has allowed it to go on and on and on. You write about how it was going on when you were in middle school and the boys chased you at recess and knocked you onto the grass and stuck their hands up your shirt and you write about it now because back then you didn’t tell anyone because you had it in your mind that it was just playful playground fun—even though it didn’t feel like fun to you.
You want to write about all of this and more, but putting it in words is difficult. The thoughts are coming from so many different places and what you need to do is set the thoughts aside for a while and write from that place in your gut that’s holding it all in. You want to write and you don’t want to write because it’s going to take you places you’ve been avoiding. It’s going to take you places that you’ve held in secret for about thirty years and it’s going to make you feel vulnerable because somehow you still have it in your head that it was your fault, that you put yourself in a bad situation and so ultimately you are responsible. You hate feeling vulnerable.
You’re going to say things about boys that have most likely grown in to decent human beings, stellar community members, charitable donors to their local nonprofits. But you decide to write it now because it’s the only way you can express what’s going on inside of you when you hear about these two young men who have been arrested for sexual assault.
You knew boys like those boys in your school days. They were the kids the teachers liked. They were the kids you liked. They played basketball and football. They were witty and popular and you wanted their attention so badly. And so when they gave it to you it felt like a privilege. You with the crooked teeth, that lived on the wrong side of town, that had a step-father who wouldn’t talk to you and a father who never called wanted the attention of those boys and when they gave it you certainly didn’t want to tell them no. And so they asked you to hang out with them after school one day and you said yes and it never occurred to you that you’d be the only girl. And you went with them anyhow because you didn’t know not to trust them. You went to one of the boys’ houses a few blocks from school. His dad was home and so you went instead into their camp trailer that was parked in their front yard. You don’t remember much about the camp trailer, just being shoved down on a little folding bed, and someone undoing your pants and another someone pulling them off your legs and there was laughing and you didn’t know you were crying until you felt the tears running down the side of your face and one of them put his head to your privates and said things and did things that in your naivety you never knew were things to do and the humiliation was more than you could bear and so when it was over you laughed along with them and pretended it was no big deal and then you walked home, alone and ashamed. At home you ate dinner and watched Three’s Company with your mom and your little sister and your silent step-dad. You talked on the phone with your friend for a while and you never said a word about what happened because you thought somehow you should have seen it coming. You should have known not to go with them. You should have been smarter. You should have been prettier because the boys probably didn’t do that to the prettiest girls. You should have, you should have, you should have and it never even occurred to you until several years later that the should-haves weren’t yours to own.
And so you want to write about your town and what it’s going through, because what your town is going through is a terrible thing. But it’s been going on for ages. The humiliating, the bullying, the assaulting, the tricking, the teasing, the hurting. All of is has been going on in varying degrees in every town. Your town is not unique. The actions the two boys in your town have been accused of are not so uncommon. What’s uncommon is their being called on it. Victims blame themselves. They try to protect their dignity and even their assailants with silence because the assailants are the good guys; they’re popular, the teachers like them, they make your town look good on the playing field. But silence is more terrible than truth. It perpetuates the belief that it’s okay. It’s okay to rape a girl if she’s wearing a short skirt. It’s okay to mess with the drunk kid. It’s okay to tease the kid with a learning disability. It’s okay to shame a girl for having sex. It’s okay to shame a boy for not having sex. It’s okay to beat up the gay kid. It’s okay to pull the pants off the girl who was stupid enough to follow you into the camp trailer.
It has to end somewhere. At some point you have to say enough. It’s not okay. And sure, what your town is going through is a difficult thing, but it’s necessary. It’s breaking the pattern of silence.
You write about it now, not because you want attention or sympathy. You write about it now because there is this hope that by not brushing a society’s dark secrets aside, by saying something, by doing something, you’ll make a difference. You write about it now because when you were thirteen you couldn’t articulate the truth of the matter: it’s not okay to hurt someone, grope someone, touch someone without consent even if they’re passed out drunk, even if they’ve flirted with you, even if they’ve wandered off with you. You write because you hope for a future where open communication reigns and where victims don’t feel responsible for the actions perpetrated against them. You write because there should be no excuses and no free passes when it comes to harming another human being. You write, not because you have any answers, but because you have something to say. You believe that when it comes to teaching respect and dignity we all have something to say.
It seems that chicken is all over the news this week, and things are no different here at the Sundmark household. Monday evening when we came home from work we discovered carnage in our yard. The security of our chicken tractor—the one that got us through last summer with 25 healthy birds—had been breached. Some kind of critter, most likely a dog, had broken the fiberglass greenhouse siding off of one side and proceeded to slaughter seven of our chicks. The others went in to a state of shock and huddled together in a corner. The ones on the bottom of the pile suffocated. All together we lost fifteen of our chickens.
I know that eating local food isn’t going to save the world, but it’s a cause our family has decided to put some effort toward. For us it means growing a garden or buying from local growers. It means harvesting salmon, buying beef from our local cowboy, and raising our own chickens for both eggs and meat. After the slaughter we found in our yard on Monday it looks like next winter we’ll have fewer chicken dinners.
There are plenty of foods I’m not willing to give up in order to eat a strictly local diet and so we spend a great deal of money on food that comes from places much warmer than Alaska. I’m a big fan of apples, for example, and I have a weakness for the Rugged English Cheddar cheese that Save-U-More carries. In fact Save-U-More is full of surprises, including an aisle of Trader Joe’s foods and an extensive organic produce section. It’s a goofy grocery store with its bizarre layout and its incessant rearranging, but for the most part it keeps the foodies in Homer happy.
For the size of our town we have a good selection of restaurants and cafes as well. Back in the day when we ran a bed and breakfast we had a guest one time that expressed surprise that a few of our nicer restaurants stayed open through the winter. I tried to explain that in Homer people have priorities that might not be the same as in other parts of the country. We may only buy a new pair of jeans every two or three years, and we may drive a Subaru that can only be entered through the passenger side door (true story) but we’ll spend good money on good food. A few of our higher end restaurants have survived when Arby’s and Burger King couldn’t make a go of it.
And so it’s safe to say that after living in Homer for eighteen years I’m no expert on fast food. I eat at the local Subway once every couple of years, and I haven’t stepped inside the local McDonalds since my niece worked there several years ago. When I go to Anchorage there are so many great places to choose from that fast food doesn’t even cross my mind. What all of this is getting at is that I’ve never eaten at a Chick-Fil-A, and I never will. I wouldn’t have even if Dan Cathy had never made his statement in opposition to gay marriage, or if the company had never donated millions of dollars to organizations like the Family Research Council.
When I came home on Monday to find a bunch of dead chickens in my yard I had the realization that something I thought was secure was in fact very vulnerable. I feel the same way today after seeing photos from around the country of crowds of people lining up to eat at Chick-Fil-A’s. I thought we were moving beyond homophobia, but I see that we have a long way to go. I believe that for some people eating at Chick-Fil-A this afternoon was a matter of showing support for our first amendment rights, but I don’t think that was the true motivation of most.
I’m in the fortunate position of having a diverse group of Facebook friends. They cover most sides of any political issue and this whole Chick-Fil-A thing is no exception. One of my friends stated in a thread that people were just taking a stand for Godly values by showing their support for Chick-Fil-A. A couple of people on this thread even evoked the old saying, “hate the sin but love the sinner.” It shows me that to them today’s turnout for chicken sandwiches wasn’t about first amendment rights. It was about speaking out against homosexuality. What I want to point out is that hating the “sin” in this case is synonymous with hating “the sinner,” because it’s not a matter of deciding to be gay; it’s a matter of being gay. And that hatefulness, no matter how it’s framed, is disheartening.
A line from a John Gorka song comes to mind sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by the way humans build up walls and divisions between one another… We are here to love each other, that is all…
I know it’s only a line to a song and that it’s not realistic to think that this world will ever be a place where all people show love to one another all the time. But the truth is that we all have the capacity for love on an individual level. Every day lives are changed and attitudes are changed; every day individual worldviews are changed because one person somewhere decides to imagine the world from another person’s point of view.
We’re a diverse bunch, us humans. Some of us will raise our chickens ourselves, some of us want ours served with a side of waffle fries. Others of us would never think of eating a chicken. The reality though is that we all get hungry. Our differences are lower on the scale of importance than the things we have in common. Let’s focus less on the ways we fill ourselves up, and more on the fact that we all need food.
The Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference happened this past weekend and I’m taking the day to recover and reflect. This year I didn’t just attend the conference; I really did the conference. I didn’t skip any sessions. I went to the evening readings. I even socialized after hours instead of rushing home to the solitude of my home. I wish I had it in me to write up something cohesive to describe the weekend, but since I’m still feeling whooped and I need to save my writing energy for some revising that needs to be done over the next couple of days, I’ll stick to bullet points.
Here are few things that are sticking with me from the 2012 Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference:
- Barry Lopez started things off with an incredible keynote address. He asked the question, “What is the purpose of a writer in a pluralistic society?” Then he wound around to the answer he’s come up with for himself which is that the writer’s job is to help. So that leaves me asking, am I helping anyone or anything in any way? Am I telling stories that need telling?
- Ann Pancake discussed the tricky territory of writing fiction that delves into political issues. It’s difficult, she said, but when it’s done the right way it has the potential to dispel psychic numbing. I think of The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, a book that I just finished reading for the first time this week. It was relavent when it was written and its relavent today. It’s a book that has helped.
- Valerie Miner, one of University of Alaska Anchorage’s MFA faculty members, suggests that we are all literary citizens. She offered ideas of how to keep the literary conversation going, one of which was simply to take one another’s writing more seriously. And that’s one of the beautiful things about this conference; writing is shared, discussed, taught and discovered in a supportive, friendly, noncompetitive environment. Warm fuzzies pretty much all around.
- Peggy Shumaker. Alaska is beyond fortunate to have Peggy as the State Writer Laureate. Her generosity, professionalism and kindness are a blessing. In her closing address she admonished us to look out for one another—and nobody looks out for writers the way Peggy looks out for writers.
- Back to Barry Lopez. He says to know exactly why you’re writing. It’s necessary to have a solid understanding of your purpose as a base for the rejection you will face. Yikes, but true. This leads me back to the forever question of why do I do this? My answer is forming and changing all the time. He also says that writing is not about intelligence. It’s about telling a memorable story. And for some reason I find that statement incredibly comforting.
Then there are the other, non-classroomy things: I got to hear longtime acquaintances from the library read their work at the open mic and in hearing them discovered a side to them I would likely never have known had I not been there. I ran into an old friend—one I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade—and we had the chance to get caught up with each other’s lives. And of course I got to see lots of my MFA cronies.
The last thing I’ll mention is the bonfire. It was just what I needed after three days of sitting. The wind died down, the rain held off and the bay was calm. Children of attendees ran around, drinks were shared, stories were swapped and music was played. Amy brought her ukulele, Ed brought a guitar, TJ brought his banjo and I brought my fiddle. Since the three of them are infinitely more musically versatile than I am we were able to play tunes into the night. It was a great convergence of a few things that I love.
The 2012 Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference was a great gathering and next year will be too. I mean, Naomi Shihab Nye will be the keynote speaker. Can it get any better than that? Hopefully I’ll see you there.
Kachemak Bay Bonfire
One of the things I love most about the MFA program that I’m in is that it requires of me a tremendous amount of reading. Every month I have to read and write a response to three books. This requirement forces me to focus closely on how a book is written, how its essence impacts its readers and how I might learn to do the same sort of thing in my own writing.
When I applied to UAA’s low-residency MFA program I had to choose between fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I ended up choosing fiction; for me personally it is the most challenging. But I want to study all three. So in order to appease myself I have not excluded poetry or non-fiction from my reading lists.
Right now I’m working on writing a story that is about a place as much as it is about the people in it and I’ve tried to choose books to read that will aid me in this process. This month I was lucky to have stumbled upon a new book written by an Alaskan author who does this so eloquently that I feel I could read it over and over again and each time glean a new angle in my approach to writing about the way a place can influence and shape the people who reside there.
I was initially drawn to the memoir, Faith of Cranes: Finding Hope and Family in Alaska by Hank Lentfer, because of its title. Sandhill cranes return to my neighborhood outside of Homer every summer and I’ve always felt honored to share space with them. Their return every spring is one of the most hopeful things I know of. My own teenaged children, who don’t always seem terribly observant of the natural world, take notice of the cranes and are always thrilled when they first see them flying overhead at the end of every long winter. When the cranes leave each September, almost always on the 16th day of the month, it’s with mixed emotions; we’re in awe of the magic of migration and already nostalgic for the summer days that went by so quickly.
I was also drawn to the book because of the author’s name. It turns out that the author’s parents live here in Homer and are huge supporters and users of the library where I work. The nosey side of me that is always trying to make connections was eager to read the writing of Jack and Mary Lentfer’s son.
Hank Lentfer’s story is a story of coming of age, a story of finding himself trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense but most importantly it’s a story of love. Hank heartbreakingly loves the place where he lives and the wild places where he hunts deer and picks berries and harvests salmon. His story is of coming to terms with his fear of losing the land where he finds spiritual and physical sustenance. It’s also a story of love for the people who share in his connection to a place and the realization that the loss that ultimately goes hand in hand with love is beautiful and hopeful in its own right.
So many of the books that I read, even some of the great ones, are enjoyable and thought provoking in the moment of the reading. But not all of them stay with me. Faith of Cranes stands out because since I’ve read it I find myself mulling it over, considering the choices I’ve made, thinking about the ways I’d like for my own life to be more thoughtful and more closely tied to nature. And it leaves me asking important questions, a few of which are below:
- How different would the world be if all parents, before conception, considered the responsibility, the joy, the loss and the beauty of bringing a child into existence? The chapter in Lentfer’s book entitled, “Letter to an Unborn Child” was striking in its honesty and its raw expression of his fears about becoming a father in a world that is filled with war, environmental degradation and disconnection.
- How much living are we, as a culture, missing out on by buying into a consumer-driven mentality? By choosing to slow down and live with less we would be giving ourselves more opportunities to develop friendships, deepen the bonds we share with our families and have more time for self-reliance and art. We know this, and yet it is difficult to extricate our lives from the cycle of filling our days with jobs and tasks we don’t find meaningful. Why is it so hard?
- As a person who is concerned about things like climate change, wilderness preservation, clean air, clean water and the protection of habitat how do I not lose hope when the news is overwhelmingly bad on all those fronts? And along those same lines how can creativity, love and hopefulness make a difference?
If you are interested in an intimate portrayal of a life in coastal Alaska, if you love a place on this earth, if you feel a connection to cranes or any other kind of wildlife, if you appreciate a well-crafted story or if you simply would like to escape for a while into a sensual, thoughtful world, I highly recommend Faith of Cranes. And if you end up reading it, I’d love to know the questions it summoned for you. I’d also love to know what books you’ve read recently that have stuck with you, caused you to consider changes you’d maybe like to make in your own life.
Yesterday, a young twenty-something couple came to the counter at the library where I work and wanted me to tell them about Homer. They didn’t want statistics as much as they wanted to know what it’s like to live here. They told me they are moving to Alaska, touring around the state, trying to find the community that best fits them.
I talked with them for twenty minutes about why we chose to move to Homer from Eagle River seventeen years ago; reaffirming to myself the reasons I love this place, “where the mountains meet the sea,” as the KBBI slogan says. I talked about how so many people who live here have chosen this place because of what it is, not because it’s easy to get by here. That is why you’ll meet men and women who have three different jobs in order to make ends meet for their young families. It’s why you’ll meet people who have chosen to live unconventionally, away from the mindset of career advancement and consumerism. But today, looking back on the conversation, I’m thinking less about the place I live now, and more about the person I was when Dean and I moved to Alaska nineteen years ago.
In 1992 we bought our first house in the Eagle River valley. I was twenty-four years old and six months pregnant. Dean and I were two months shy of our second wedding anniversary. We were both in the process of a gradual, but natural departure from the religious world we had been a part of when we met and got married. I was beginning to consider the world in a different way; a way that included more possibilities than I had ever imagined. It was exciting but it felt a little dangerous stepping into new territory like that. Moving to an extreme place like Alaska seemed fitting.
We shared the valley where our cozy log home was nestled with black bears and grizzlies. We didn’t see them often, but I’d find their footprints in the glacial mud down by the river. Even though I knew they were there I didn’t have a healthy fear of them like I should have. While Dean worked the swing shift of his job, I’d hike my pregnant self and our brown dog Jessie down to the state park trails and go exploring. I didn’t make enough noise, and aside from my dog, I was alone out there late in the evening when the light was beginning to dim.
The Eagle River valley is stunning. It narrows as you drive toward the east and steep mountains tower on either side. A visitor center at the end of the road, right next to where our house was located, is the beginning of a trail system that can take you either up into the mountains or to the river itself; fast running and cloudy with glacial silt. Living near the trail system was a gift. Over the year and a half that we lived there we found our way to it almost daily; became familiar with individual cottonwood trees along the way, enjoyed its bounty of lignonberries. But as beautiful as it was, the time I lived there was one of the loneliest times in my life.
For those first few months in Alaska, before Dillon was born, I spent a lot of time alone. And I wasn’t yet comfortable in my own company. To pass the time I read, went for walks, and called my mom and sisters. I made friends with some of the neighbors. One of them, Gretchen, was expecting a baby right around the same time as me. Although I was thankful for the new people I had met, I missed the informal, easy company of the family I’d just left in Colorado. Another factor that contributed to my feeling of isolation was that every morning almost all of our neighbors would make the twenty mile trek into Anchorage for their jobs. Sometimes after Dean would leave for work later in the afternoon, I felt like it was just me out there, with the moose and the bears.
It took me a while to adjust to living in Alaska. As most things go, it was different than I’d imagined. Before moving here I had never lived in a coastal environment, had never lived in a place where it stayed light into the early morning hours or lived in a place that was so vast and undeveloped. That first summer here I read stories in the news that haunted me; about a family that froze to death on the Denali Highway the previous winter when their car broke down, about Chris McCandless, a young man my same age, that wandered off into the wilderness and died of starvation, about a family in Craig, Alaska, murdered one night when their houseboat was untied from the dock and set on fire. I had never lived in a place with such extreme stories.
I’m sure that regardless of where I would have chosen to live these last nineteen years I would be looking back at myself and marveling at how much I’ve changed. But I think living in Alaska has sent me on a path of self discovery that would not have been possible anywhere else. This is due in part to the landscape itself, its depth and its magnitude. It’s due in part to its climate and latitude, making me embrace the extreme light and darkness both within myself and in nature. And it’s due in part to the people I’ve befriended here. Alaska attracts remarkable people; passionate people who believe in the power of art and self-sufficiency, courageous people who take chances and learn from their failures. More than anything else, the people here have challenged me to see the world and conventional society with a critical and creative eye. Knowing them and being around them has helped me figure out what it means to be myself.
As I think about the young couple I met at the library I wonder if they know what they’re getting themselves into. I wonder what they will learn about themselves along the way. Maps and travel guides and information gleaned from the library can’t possibly prepare them.
I timed myself. From the moment I entered until the moment my transaction ended it took 48 minutes, which seems like an awfully big chunk of time when you’re not used to waiting in line for much of anything. But it’s Christmastime and the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without at least one very long wait at the Homer Post Office.
There is something noble about saying that you waited in line at the Post Office for a long time. It insinuates that you are getting your gifts sent off to distant relatives in a timely fashion, but I have to confess, I haven’t purchased a single gift yet. Shopping is my least favorite aspect of Christmas. I prefer the baking, which is why I was willing to stand in line for the better part of my lunch break on Monday. I had no choice. If I wanted the organic Saigon Cinnamon and the organic cocoa powder that I’d ordered online then I had to take the plunge.
I do quite a few things around town to keep me feeling connected; I go to the contra dances, I volunteer for the Homer Nutcracker, and I work in the library, but I don’t think anything makes me feel more a part of the community than a nice, long wait at the Homer Post Office.
When I first walked in the door I was greeted by cheering and clapping. Well it wasn’t for me, but for the lady walking out. The crowd was congratulating her for making it through the line. After it was clear that I was not one of the people who bailed upon seeing the length of the line, a man three people in front of me informed me of the expected wait time. “It’s taking about thirty minutes,” he said.
Way up ahead of me in the line I could see one of my close friends who appeared to be conducting business from her cell phone. First someone came in to have her sign paperwork then a few minutes later she was delivered a batch of cupcakes. I weighed the option of running my pink slip up to her so she could pick up my package for me, but I didn’t want to be the one responsible for turning the mostly cheerful crowd hostile by cutting, besides, her hands were full.
A well known local conspiracy theorist happened to be there that day, and he decided to talk rather loudly and incessantly about how the postal service was going south because of the government’s war on drugs. According to him, all packages were being opened and inspected in the back and that’s why it was taking so long.
Another woman, someone I didn’t recognize, talked on her cell phone about some fairly private matters concerning the health of her friends and family. After hearing the words “colonoscopy” and “questionable pap results” I was thankful, for her family’s sake and my own, that I didn’t know her.
About twenty minutes in, my business conducting friend who had been near the beginning of the line finished sending her packages and came to chat with me. We made a date to sit in her new hot tub, exchanged stories about our teen-aged daughters and compared notes on how we were holding up during the coldest, darkest part of winter. Then as she was walking out she looked back at me and said, just so most everyone could hear, “I don’t wear a bathing suit in the hot tub, so don’t worry about bringing one.” – So glad she left me there with the townsfolk after giving them that image.
Then there was the lady that kept trying to get the group to sing Christmas carols, and the young woman who never looked up from her texting the entire time, and the guy who was reading his mail and swearing. It made for some good people-watching and I never got bored.
Overall it wasn’t a bad 48 minutes. It was better than shopping and it reminded me of why I love this quirky little town. And I had something to think about when I finally got my box of spices and it had been opened. Maybe the conspiracy theorist guy was right after all.
I learned a couple of years ago in a memoir writing class that it’s good to put some time and distance between certain incidents in your life and when you attempt to write about them. My instructor said that you would get a sense when you started writing as to whether or not you’re ready. I’m thinking that twelve years is enough, and I can finally write about the time I got arrested.
I’ve told the story dozens of times, each time laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole event, but something has stopped me every time I’ve attempted to write about it; probably because it was humiliating. Putting it down on paper just makes me remember how awful it felt to see the neighbors drive by as I was handcuffed on the side of the road, how stunned I felt as I sat in the cold, barred-off back seat of the trooper’s cruiser and how angry I felt when my name appeared in the local newspaper’s police blotter the following week.
I hadn’t thought about the incident for quite a while, but it came back to me recently when I watched the video of a reporter getting detained by the security guards hired by a certain Alaskan politician. The two young security men in the video were trying to keep other members of the press from talking to the hand-cuffed reporter. Their buzz-cuts and their determination to look official reminded me of the trooper, (I like to call him BabyTrooper as he looked like he was about nineteen years old) that decided to cuff me on the side of the road all those years ago.
Before I go any further I should reassure everyone that I am not a criminal. Really I’m not. And I wasn’t at the time of my arrest. I was a stay-at-home mom trying to finish up my Bachelor’s degree. I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class. I took my three year old to play group and I looked after the neighbor kids on a fairly regular basis. For fun I was learning how to knit and how to make awesome homemade bread. And no, I wasn’t one of those moms that lived an “after hours” life of partying and carousing around town. My evenings were spent doing things like reading and watching movies.
It all happened because I didn’t deal with a fix-it ticket. Two years before my arrest I had been pulled over when I was driving home from Soldotna because a headlight was out on my Subaru. I got the light fixed within a few days, but I failed to take it back to the Alaska State Troopers office to have them check it off as having been repaired. And for that oversight they put a warrant out for my arrest. Little did I know that the next time I would be pulled over for a minor traffic violation (yes, another headlight out on the same Subaru) I would end up getting hauled down to the station until my husband could pay the $40.00 to bail me out. (And before you start to imagine me behind bars please know that it didn’t go that far, thankfully.)
Now, I understand the importance of headlights. I realize they are significant safety features on cars. And believe me, I’m quick to get broken headlights fixed these days. But honestly, is not dealing with a fix-it ticket an arrest-able offense? Apparently it is. I do believe that BabyTrooper could have handled it differently though. Perhaps he could have asked me to follow him to the station, or at the very least he could have let me ride in his car without the handcuffs. But I think he got a little charge out of humiliating the hell out of me. And I blame him for the split-second of panic I still feel whenever a trooper drives past.
I’ve learned a lot from this incident and I hope in my writing about it I can pass on some of my hard-earned insights. First of all, if you own a Subaru that was manufactured anytime between 1983 and 1995 just know you’re going to go through a lot of headlights. It might be a good idea to keep a few spares at home. And, should you get pulled over for having a headlight out, don’t forget the very crucial step of driving it over to the police station so they can officially make note of its repair.
Also, it’s a good idea to have an open mind when reading the local police blotter. When the Homer News and the Homer Tribune reported my particular crime to the general public they didn’t explain that it was all over a minor traffic violation. They left out the part about how the trooper, fresh out of trooper school, was trained to follow protocol but had not an inkling of common sense. All it said was: Teresa Sundmark, 29, arrested for outstanding warrant. Which leads to the most important lesson I learned from the whole getting arrested event; sometimes, even though you’re a law-abiding citizen and all around good person, people will treat you otherwise, and at such times it’s helpful to hold your head high and not let the bullies and the uninformed make you feel bad. And if they do, just tell the story lots of times and laugh about it a lot. Then, when enough time has passed write it all down and hope that you can finally put the whole thing behind you.
The Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference is underway, and I’m feeling lucky that such an event happens right here in my home town. World class authors come here, to me, making it just so easy (and affordable) to learn from them. I get in my car, drive about fifteen miles, make myself comfortable in the conference room at Land’s End Resort, and people like Michael Cunningham, Dinty Moore, Bill Roorbach, Peggy Shumaker, Sherry Simpson, Nancy Lord and Rich Chiappone (to name just a few) offer workshops, answers to writing questions and expert advice. It’s pretty cool.
Although I’ve been dabbling in writing for several years, I’m a newbie to the writing world. The KBWC is a good way to get a sampling of what it’s all about. Jennifer Pooley, a senior editor from HarperCollins imprint William Morrow is here, as is agent April Eberhardt. It’s been nice to meet both of these very approachable women because they remind me that agents and editors are real people; something I’m guessing that most of you already knew.
Here are a few morsels I’ve gleaned from the offerings so far:
- I use the word “I” way to much in my writing and I think I’m going to have to start looking for alternative ways to talk about myself so as to not bore the poor readers or sound like a narcissist.
- Bill Roorbach says to call writing “work” and not “writing,” because the guilt-ridden side of us won’t let us skip out on work and it’s easy to decline social engagements when you say, “Sorry, I have to work.”
- Dinty Moore’s workshop on miniature nonfiction validated my love for keeping things short and gave me some great ideas for future projects.
- Michael Cunningham says it’s important to stay engaged with a piece of writing by visiting it every day, even if you don’t have much time. He also says to “write smarter than you are.”
- Listening to Peggy Shumaker read from her new book, “Gnawed Bones” reminded me that I love poetry, especially when it’s as accessible and beautiful as hers.
- And Bill Roorbach says that gardening is writing. I love that.
To outsiders 39 degrees doesn’t sound very warm, but in Homer, in the middle of March, when there is no wind and the sun is shining, it feels downright toasty, especially if you’re wearing your favorite wool sweater. Yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day, was one of those days. Unfortunately I had to work, but I did manage to get outside over my lunch break.
First, I left the library and waded through several inches of slush in the parking lot to find my way to the walking trail that leads through the woods. The trail hasn’t been cleared since last week’s storm, but a narrow path of packed down snow made it passable. I could have followed the road, but I would have been sprayed and subsequently soaked if a car had driven past. On the trail I met a young guy whose mother is a friend of mine. When he stepped aside to let me pass he sunk about two feet into the soft, melting snow. It was very chivalrous of him considering the fact that he was wearing sneakers and I had my snow boots.
At the end of the trail I turned south on Poopdeck Street. At this point I had to shade my eyes with my hands. The sun, the snow, the water; well it was all a little overwhelming for my pupils. The sidewalk was also icy which made for some interesting maneuvering. I walked and slid my way downhill to the highway, without crashing I might add, with one hand above my eyes and the other out in front of me for balance.
I crossed the highway at the crosswalk and cut through the Islands and Ocean Visitors Center parking lot to meet the next trail. It cuts down through the spruce and alder forest and leads to one of my favorite destinations in Homer; Two Sisters Bakery. But yesterday it was too nice outside, and I needed the sun more than I needed a chocolate bread roll, so I walked past the bakery and headed toward Bishop’s Beach.
The parking area was crowded. Dogs and children were milling about. A black lab and a German shepherd, free from their owners, ran up to greet me. It turns out that I knew both of the dogs and when I called out their names, Osa and Caspian, they were beside themselves. They proceeded to swarm around me in a flurry of leaping and hopping and wagging tails. When the boys who belonged to the dogs caught up they seemed equally as excited as the dogs at having found someone they know at the beach. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good greeting.
After a short chat in the parking lot I walked through the soft sand at the top of the beach and over the rocky stretch about half way down before I reached the final stretch of my journey. Still wet from the receding tide and littered with clumps of seaweed, driftwood and clam shells, the expanse of dark sand just before the water is one of my favorite places. Sometimes I walk long distances along the water’s edge, taking advantage of the firm surface, but yesterday my time was limited so instead of walking parallel to the water I went straight toward it.
I knew I didn’t have long, that I’d have to turn back in order to get back to work on time, but I stood for a while with the water inching in and out around the soles of my boots. I listened to the waves. I turned my head toward the sun and soaked in its heat for a few moments. Then I did something that I hadn’t planned on doing; I took off my gloves and plunged my hands in the ocean. For some reason it just seemed like the right thing to do.
It’s officially the time of year when I start daydreaming about living in New Mexico or somewhere, anywhere, where a person can leave the house without wearing ice-cleats and a headlamp. Between the moose bedded down twenty feet from where we walk, a two inch layer of solid ice and the darkness, the most difficult part of each day can be getting up or down our driveway. My response is that I never want to leave the house. I would be perfectly happy to stay here.
I realize that staying home all the time is unrealistic. Money must be earned. Children must be driven around. Groceries must be purchased. But I do find myself minimizing my outings during the darkest part of winter, and oftentimes I regret the commitments I’ve made that require me to leave the house. That’s how I was feeling yesterday. I just wanted to stay home with my computer and my books.
I’m sure I would have enjoyed another evening at home, but last night I was reminded of why it is that I love this town, and why I stay here even when the winters start to make me a little batty.
The son of a friend of mine plays basketball on the Homer High School team and because of district funding issues the kids have to pay their own travel expenses for their games. My friend decided to hold a contra dance after the game against Seward yesterday, with all of the proceeds going toward the team. She and her husband asked me to play fiddle with their band for the dance.
The coach required that all the boys attend the event, and invite their friends and families, and of course girls, so they would have someone to dance with. He told them they didn’t have to dance, but if they chose not to he would make them run 500 suicides at practice next week. The parents of the team brought chili and cornbread and a table full of desserts, possibly to make the idea of a contra dance more appealing to the boys. I fully expected the high school commons to be full of eye-rolling, arms-crossed teens, waiting impatiently until they could safely get out of there and onto whatever else they’d rather be doing. But I was wrong.
At 8:00 we played our first tune, to get the kids attention mostly. Then the first dance was called. About twenty tentative couples made their way to the dance floor. Before the caller finished teaching the dance the number of couples doubled. It continued that way all evening. Each dance seemed to have more participants than the one before. And people kept showing up all the time; parents, friends, basketball supporters, the regular contra dance crowd. The coach mandated the boys’ participation but he never said they had to stay until the end. They were still going strong when we had to wrap things up at eleven.
There was much to enjoy about the evening; the food, the conversation, the mixed-age group socializing together. I’m glad I didn’t miss it. I’m sure I would have enjoyed staying home, getting lost in another good book, but instead I got to watch a room full of laughing people dance to the music of my own making. I don’t think I’ll ever find a book that makes me feel as good as that.