Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chicken has Landed

By Lisa Connors
(Non-fiction with an asterisk)

An open letter to my beloved Rainier Writing Workshop Cohort 11, the magnificent RWW Community, and Explorer, Literary and Literal Eco-Activist and my Mentor (thank Rick and the Gods), Gary Ferguson.

Thursday, August 14, 2014. 9:44am. Chicken and I have been awake for several hours. Tucked in this 240 square foot cabin perched on a hill, grounded, solid yet through the bare window of the alcove cradling the bed it appears we are hovering in this thick stand of Alders. We are 1.2 miles from the Goose Community Grocery on South Whidbey Island, a twenty minute ferry ride from Seattle and ten more by car, but the siting of the cabin, and the utter silence are such that I feel like I’ve slipped through a curtain, arrived on some other side I hoped existed, bereft of the gift to describe it for you. I remember Gary Ferguson’s gentle counsel from early last week, Monday I think, “The first time I write it down, it is never as good as it was in my head. Don’t worry about it.” He said. So I won’t, or I’ll try anyway. And while Chicken’s crazed eyes and gawking, silent-scream mouth would suggest otherwise, he/she sits serenely, and worries not one bit. Gary wasn’t my official mentor when he offered those words about crafting story on paper, but I have been learning, in a rush, fiercely, hungrily, from him since January of this year when I discovered his books and essays, out of all of the faculty’s auspicious work, calling me, not only as a writer but an explorer and even better, a daughter of this vast wilderness called Earth - belonging and thus bearing the responsibility of living into the laws of a co-active community that as a human member I struggle to both understand and live up to. You try. And forgive yourself when you don’t get it right, when what you believe in loses something in translation from your heart to your head and again through your hands as you pull more toilet paper off the roll than is sufficient. Then you try again. We are awake, Chicken and I. Wide awake.

My bid for Chicken at the fundraising auction Tuesday night, the last event of the ten-day sprint called Residency, was a bid to belong. As the youngest of three kids, transplanted when I was midway through kindergarten by city-raised parents who dreamed of a farm into a tiny rural village in Southeast Michigan teeming with Baptists and combines and cousins and dynasties whose names were plastered on the grain mill and shops, belonging was something not granted to me in the ways ‘most people’ get. My family shed our religion (Lutheran) back two generations, and our European ingredients are so varied that sifted together over our bodies and sensibilities we were simply coated in flour bleached white. My grandparents stayed behind as my folks followed wanderlust and my Dad’s job with Sears, along with the pictures and stories and mealtime rituals bequeathed to the few cousins I have. As I have moved into the middle lands of my lifetime I work to slip out of the cloak of not-needing-anyone-much I stitched for myself, squatting in the lean-to I built out of small rotting tree trunks. That last is not a metaphor, although it is metaphoric I guess. Between the ages of five and ten, after which magic wears thin, I ruled the slight stands of scrap trees and burry brush behind our house, the crown princess of the forest and the fields beyond, assisted by my little dog, Bertha - half Black Lab and half Dachshund. Not a mix one would choose for beauty or speed, but unmatched for devotion and squeezing under fallen down things. I belonged without question to the land and myself. A cast of imaginary animal friends, (including a raucous black bird named aptly if not elegantly, Dum Dum Dee Dee) were my clan. I watch the world of people thrum by from the edges while I pretend to be one of them. So Cate (G) I argued against your bids for that piece of ridiculous rubber, not to compete, not even to give cash for the cause, but to take one more step out of the shelters I’ve made.

It is now 11:23 am, still Thursday I think, and I am still laying in my pajamas in this white cloud of a bed, down stuffed and draped with deep red plushy curtains, nowhere to be, reading and writing and occasionally sipping tea, and thus padding into the bathroom I share with no one, five steps away over polished wood floors, tamping my toilet paper usage down to a minimum. I say this not to brag, I am keenly aware of the gift of this space against the work and the families and the sprouted potatoes and the NOISE you all face now, but to make the comparison and follow some thread back to Gary’s example in his life and his work that is helping me name just what it is I need my writing to be in the world. And then I ask you, in the name of Chicken our Muse, to share more of your story and who you are becoming with me as you find the time and inclination. Perhaps inspired, as I assuredly am, by the mere presence of Chicken. I have to pee. Back in a minute.

On the way back to bed, just a step or two in, I pause in the kitchenette to make a yogurt parfait. Yes, there is decadence in this cabin I highly recommend. As I spoon yogurt into a wine glass, then layer in organic vanilla granola, then blueberries then start over again, I am reminded of Gary asking us to notice how skilled writers spoon out bits of story. I an drawing spoons in the margins of his 2003 book “Hawks Rest,” eyeing the dollops of personal history, eco-imperative cause, good-plain-folk language, lyric interludes, science that makes one feel smarter - not dumber, character quirks and philosophies, and flat out action-adventure in quantities and textures measured and chosen to draw certain types of readers out of their own encampments, (la-z-y-boys worn against large bodily masses and rent vinyl or perhaps even leather patched up with duct tape; downy white beds in cabins on islands in sounds off the coast of real life) to join an expedition as part of an American legacy of defining self and collective against the harder edges of the outdoors. Chicken is eyeing my parfait and AWKs at my choices. “Sprinkle on a few bugs.” He/She suggests. Chatty now, having heard that a rooster is up for grabs in the wilds of Pennsylvania he/she asks lustily to visit Cate (H) next. “Who knows where that might go?” He/she croons, through a throat ringed with pearls. The arrow shot through the tramp stamp quivers just so. In a pinch might this serve as one of my critical papers? If I edit out the tramp stamp part? 1:32 pm Thursday, August 2014. The first day of something I will write my way into, but right now it’s time to shed the comforts of this beautiful cabin and rub up against some hard edges. 

Monday, March 25, 2013


She sits with herself since the attack, with no work to do but fall apart. At first she raged and writhed with her losses. The fire burst on her and tore at her, hungry and drunk on its own power. The heat quickly undressed her. Flames careened down her halls, banging on doors and smashing windows with fists. The door to the stairs was heavy, thick metal and glass built to withstand this very battle. “Keep this door shut against fire” engraved on a plate. Live in this neighborhood, you best have a plan. Fire seethed and roiled in place for a time, building its strength to just blow this shit up.
Someone was watching. And did the right thing. 
Firefighters arrived on the scene bearing the weapon that trumps fire. They went to war and eventually won.
Then they all left.
Conversations were had. Some laden with grief. Others voiced the reality. No money. We leave it.
Laid nearly bare, stinking and scorched she stands alone.
For a time there are others who arrive almost daily. Scavengers ripping out fixtures and fittings and furniture. They need them, want them, and she doesn’t. No matter.
This is what happens. The natural order of things that have fallen, by choice or by chance or divine intervention.
Attacked. Abandoned. Stripped by the scavengers. Falling silent. So very slowly crumbling and peeling backwards in time. If you look closely beauty arises. Light shines on darkness.
Darkness gives way revealing galaxies floating in the black of decay.
It all falls to ruin. It has to.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back to Africa. Waaaayyyy Back.

My Mom and Stepdad are on sabbatical. Technically. They are really just full-on doing what they have always done - caring huge about the state of the world and working to make it better through meeting people, being in awe of what people can do when they put their mind and hearts to it, and teaching others what they learn along the way - stuffed into an employer-granted framework of time and general expectation for ummm, something? to come out of it. So they are on a world tour of transformational leadership practices. Meeting, being awed, taping interviews, being awesome themselves. They've mapped a trek through their vast network of friends/colleagues turned family that takes them right through South Africa. Yeah, you heard me. South Africa. Dang.

You KNOW how badly I want to go back to Africa. Need to go back. My since-childhood impulse to go there made stronger, rather than sedated with one visit. People often ask me, so casually, "are you going back this year?" Well intentioned, supportive, interested. My reply of "not this year" polite shorthand for a dissertation of whys and why nots. Of course it is possible to go back. It's just money and time. Limited resources, yes, but not impossible to figure out. Truth is, I've chosen not to go. And in that choosing, another way back has opened up.

Two ways back, that I know are all bound together in a way I just need to patiently discover. The first is writing. I've been attempting to write myself back to Africa. It's all in me somewhere, tossed in a box underneath the stuff from my Dad's dying and death. The second is testing my DNA. Did you know that National Geographic has been tracking human migratory paths via DNA testing across thousands of years and thousands of miles? The Genographic Project has determined what they believe to be the original source of each and every one of us back to human DNA in Africa. One male and one female ancestor for all of us. An Adam and Eve that makes sense to me. The amazing thing is that for $107 you can have your DNA traced to key points on the path that your ancestors made from these roots in Africa to where you are in time and space today.

No bags to pack. No itineraries to book. No insurance, no shots, no back-up childcare plans. I'm going back to Africa and I am so excited to see what's there.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sarro's Balloon

When I am paying attention to only the notion of paying attention, and nothing else, I am always always stunned by what rolls out of the ether to rest at my feet, my ears, my heart, my soul. On days when I risk cracking open the door in the floor, risk being knocked flat by the tsunami of the collective beating, breaking, elating hearts of this world, I am transformed. Not without cost.

Yesterday I drove to my parents' house alone. An hour and a half along familiar roads from suburb to the lake country where I grew up. From day-to-day familiar territory to the places that have always known me. And I was listening to this little piece of radio - mesmerizing art of sound called Sarro's Balloon. As the story ended and I exhaled the extra breath I was holding - letting just enough come and go while listening to stay alive - I glanced to the shoulder of the road to see exactly what I had been thinking about without thinking. A white cross with the artificial flowers and other icons that have come to be familiar on roadsides where a life has been lost.

I was driving on this road with my husband the day after Christmas. Returning home, having left our daughter to hang out with her cousin. My sister would take this same road to deliver her to me later - a handoff in a restaurant parking lot. Convenient. Logistics designed to maximize my time on a busy busy day. In that small slice of saved time, a family lost control of their car on this very pavement, this very spot, and their little boy died. My sister was late to our meeting, the road closed between us for some unknown reason.

The radio story, the moment, the place. The door in the floor ripped off it's hinges. I pulled over and had a much needed cry. Hey Dad. There's this little boy, just arrived. I didn't know him but he has people near our people. Maybe you could teach him to fish. I bet he'd like that.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Tracker Seat

Choosing The Tracker Seat is best done without too much thought. One of those moments best just seized, if you know what I mean. Don't let the photograph fool you. Fourth row at the twelve screen cinema they just opened down the street, being all still and situated in front of a cool view that's doing all the work for you it ain't. No popcorn or diet coke. Being in The Tracker Seat is more strap yourself to one of those big exercise balls and shove it over the edge of a thorn filled ravine, with um really big spiders and stuff, oh and lions in the bushes as you careen down the hill. And you have RESPONSIBILITIES.

Keep your eyes glued to the immediate foreground and notice, while bouncing in forward motion at say 30 miles per hour, a shadow of a pawprint barely making a dent in the dirt while ignoring for sanity's sake the Golden Orb spider the size of your fist. Keep your ears attuned to some frequency that allows the huff of some wild thing to cut through the roar and clatter of an under-serviced volunteer-outfit-in-Africa hand-me-down jeep engine. And breathe, through your nose please, to pick up any musky stink, and discern if that stink is carnivore, or third-day safari socks.

It is also peaceful in a way that only being in the wide open, your line of site unedited by anything man or manmade, while enjoying the completely underrated comfort of being in a chair, with padding and a seatbelt, can be.

I chose The Tracker Seat one time in Africa. Barely felt I'd earned the right just yet. Crazy and sort of dangerous that it is, it is a coveted position. You won't get the chance if you pay the big bucks for one of those tourist safaris. Liability and such. Volunteer in some back-bush preserve and you might. Don't think. Take it.