Tuesday, June 21, 2005


belting bad songs in a minivan

There will be time for indolence and summer vacation later. But for now, I'm bombarded by sensory images, like the enormous mountain lined with green trees outside this window, and the shafts of golden sunlight falling upon its back. And I'm swamped with teaching classes I already adore. We're talking about how to write from an urgent place, how to think in images instead of declaiming sentences, the way we judge people, and funny words. This morning, my fiction class started describing strange characters they had seen on the streets, including a man who ties an alarm clock to his wrist with a long piece of twine. We laughed together, then stood up to walk around the library, to really notice how we walk. They're writing and laughing, supporting each other with applause and compliments. And today is only the third day of classes.

I never really rest here. There's too much to do. Kids to meet, Sharon to laugh with, biking through downtown Sitka while fording through tourists, nightly artshares in which I hear my fellow faculty members speak about their work and I am inspired, marking up of papers to do, classes to plan, walks to take, colleagues to share stories with, and breathing in this beautiful Sitka air. Whew. But I'm blissfully happy again. The staff is fairly different this year, and I worried at first that I wouldn't enjoy them as much. Pshaw, I say. Already, I love them. Tony, the hip-hop dancer from Philadelphia, is hilarious! (He's also an incredible dancer, articulate and sweet, even if he does look like a gangster.) Last night, after the artshare, we were all congregating in the kitchen-living room area of the crazy dorms, and we all started sharing stories about our classes. He's so damn funny that we were all screaming. At one point, he said, "I can't help it. I know it's beautiful up here, but sometimes the Philadelphia boy comes out in me. I was standing in front of a vending machine, trying to buy some soda. And this kid came up to me and asked if I had change for a five. I didn't, but when I opened my wallet to see, he saw how much money I had. He said, 'Oh, I know whose wallet I'm going to steal.' And I just said, 'I'll stab you.'" He had this complete deadpan when he talked about talking to the kid, and I just howled at the idea. Last night was like that. Every night is going to be like that. After artshare we gather together, a dozen or so of us, exhausted, intending to go to bed, but we just keep talking and riffing and laughing until we're all happy exhausted.

Last evening, Sharon, Lyn, Carol, and I drove to the big Seamart, "out at the end of the road," as the locals call it. (Officially, it's called Halibut Point Road, which may be even funnier.) We drove and drove, laughing, until we spotted it. The most beautiful parking lot in the world. This rather large grocery store (full of frozen Amy's dinners and gluten-free food for me!) is perched on the edge of the land. Beyond it lies glimmering grey water, shining fiercely where the sun hits it. Humps of green-grey islands sit squat among the water. And looming above it sits Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano with the top sheared off, its sloping sides grey-blue laced with white snow. And this is a grocery store? On the way home, we dug into the glove compartment of this minivan we were driving, donated to the camp by someone in the community, and found a tape: Secret Love. The cover is pure 80s, a man and woman in acid-washed jeans, leaning against a tree, staring into each other's eyes. (Can they actually see each other through their big hair?) We popped it in, of course, and sang all the way back to the dorms, belting, with all our fervor: "I'm all out of love. What am I without you?" And then breaking into giggles at the delight of it all.

And later we made up our own power ballad, based on something I said when we alighted from the minivan to sudden sun: "Wherever the sun shines through the rain, there's bound to be a rainbow." We might just have to perform it at an artshare some night.

Tonight, I'm giving a reading at the Naa'Kahidi hall, which is the gorgeous space where I read every year. I thought this year that I wasn't going to be nervous, but it happens every year now. This morning, I'm convinced that I've chosen the wrong essays, that they're cloying and didactic and no one else will understand them. I'm thinking I should switch, or maybe not do it at all. But I've been through this enough to know that I should probably calm down.

I'll let you know tomorrow.

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