Sunday, July 31, 2005


they say it's my birthday....(on Saturday, that is)

DSCN0014orange gerber#B76D1, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I wouldn't normally do this in such a public forum, but why not? It's that kind of birthday.

Next Saturday, August 6th, is my birthday. And I would love to see you all. This lovely, hot summer I've been writing and writing, but I haven't seen most of you since school ended. So come to the beach and help me celebrate.

--Saturday, August 6

--4 pm until late in the evening

--Golden Gardens Beach, in front of the water, near the building with the bathrooms. (I know, it's not that picturesque, but that way, we can find each other.)

--Bring whatever you'd like to enliven the beach: frisbees, guitars, music, silliness. Sunscreen probably would be good. And other people. Bring your spouses, kids, friends, and anyone you think I'd like. The more the merrier.

--This is a potluck, so bring lots of food. Now, as most of you know, I can't eat any gluten at all (it will make me sick), so if you could bring gluten-free food, that would be swell. If not, that's okay too. If you want to bring GF food, here are a few pointers. Meats, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, vinegars, oils, corn, millet, tef, rice--all fine. I have to stay away from wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Plus, all their derivations. There is gluten in soy sauce, some condiments, anything with modified food starch....And many more. If you have any questions, email me. I'll cheerfully tell you all about it. (If you want to see more of that, see my other blog. And if you do bring something to eat, could you please bring a written list of ingredients, including brand names, for me to peruse? Sorry to be a pain in the neck, but I don't want to be sick on my birthday.

--Speaking of food, I'm cooking up a storm this summer, so I'd love it if everyone brought his or her favorite recipe for me. If it's in a cookbook you love, cool. (I'm coveting cookbooks at the moment.) Or more appropriately, write it out. I'd love it in your handwriting. Of course, gluten-free recipes only, please! And there's really no need for other presents.

I hope you're all having a wonderful summer. And I hope I see you on Saturday!


Friday, July 29, 2005


walking in dappled sunlight

DSCN1327, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I've been gone from here for awhile. Life feels wonderfully full. In the last week, I have:

--hiked to Wallace Falls
--kayaked Lake Union with Julie on a quiet, open-skied morning, for two and a half hours
--walked in the Greenwood Seafair parade, pelting kids with candy
--met up with a new group of writers
--started meetings for teaching at The Hugo House
--started writing for Seattle Metblogs
--cooked new recipes and took photographs of them
--wrote every day for four to six hours
--gone to the pool and floated around
--felt alive and kicking.

Good life.

Mostly, I've been putting my writing energy into a) the gluten-free book project; b) the gluten-free blog; c) Seattle Metblogs, the Seattle site for Metroblogging, where they asked me to write, which is quite a nice coup; d) sending out an essay every Friday for publication, which means selection and editing and not-too-much fretting; e) the novel; f)emails to y'all.

This blog is slowing down, therefore. I'm putting most of my blog energies into the gluten-free one since I think that will help people more, and because I want thousands of people to read that one. So read that one, then tell your friends.

This place will be more for quips, brief asides, exultations, and quotes. Keep coming back. I just won't be here every day.

I hope you're feeling as well stretched as I am these days.


Monday, July 25, 2005


the blessing of awareness

Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.
We live these extraordinary moments and rarely realize how much we have been given. When the awareness comes, it feels like a blessing.

For example, yesterday I sat in the backyard of my friend Marguerite, listening to people play Bach. Marguerite, one of my older friends from the pool, plays harpsichord. Professionally. In the pool, we bob and talk about Buddhism and coincidences, food and the Mariners. I love that I have this entire social circle who knows me only in my bathing suit. She's a large personality, filled with stories and strange quirks. I adore her. She invited me to her Musicale, a gathering of musician friends for food and music. I had no expectations, which is the best way to live.

When I descended the creaky back stairs to her garden, I was met with overhanging green trees, a large table spread with wine and homemade food, and a harpichord on the grass. Marguerite held court, deciding on the order of the pieces. There were violinists, cellists, singers, and flautists. The entire afternoon was dedicated to Bach, and I listened to sonatas waft over the warm air toward me. Everyone there was extraordinary, including a woman in an enormous red hat flopping over her face. And the food wasn't bad either.

So all in all, a lovely afternoon, and only one part of my day.  
   These summer days are glorious.  

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Rainier cherries

Rainier cherries
Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.


the jam!

Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.


water rushing by

Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.


a hike up Wallace Falls

Wallace Falls
Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.


summer sunshine smiling on my eyes

sunshine smiling on my eyes
Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Sun on my skin smells like freedom to me. Especially now that my skin is healthy brown after months of being ashy grey. I adore the summer. Sometimes people outside of teaching like to tease us that we have extra-long vacations, and therefore have no right to complain about our jobs. But it's not a vacation. It's a second life. I'm a second self in summer: more expansive, more forgiving, more creative. It's the life I like.

Especially this summer, when I'm finally healthy.

Summer goes so slow and fast at the same time. Most days feel languid--I wake at 9, read The New York Times, go to Hydrofit at 11, then plan the day from there. Usually, like tonight, I'm up until midnight, writing, the clarity of the day within me. I like this schedule better than 6 am bleating alarm clock, ride the bus to school in the dark, spend the day behind because there are so many tasks to fulfill by the end of the day, then have half an hour to write. No one can be creative on demand. At least I can't. So it's only in summer that I fully feel like a writer.

Especially this summer, when I finally have mental clarity after years of fumbling through brain fog.

During the summer, we all eat better. The farmers' markets in Seattle are a bounty of berries and goat cheese, apricots so juicy that they drip over your hand as you bite them, fat bouquets of sun-warmed dahlias for $10, and pungent arugula with dirt still clinging to the roots. The salmon was caught last week instead of being frozen, the eggs are bigger in their cartons, and the sun is out until late so we pretend we live in the Mediterranean and eat late into the evening. During summer, I can live on a half-pound of spinach sauteed in sea salt. Raspberries out of the carton that stain my fingers red. A smidgen of real blue cheese, made from goat's milk, on a farm fifty miles away from this city center.

(And this one, made by Les Fromages D'Anne Marie, is made without any bread or gluten at all. I asked. Repeatedly. And they knew what gluten was. So far, this is the only blue cheese I have been able to find that is gluten-free. And oh, oh, my--you want some. Go to the Ballard Farmer's Market next Sunday.)

This is enough. It doesn't take much to make food explode, then drip in slow tastes when I pop it into my mouth. Yesterday, coming home from the Magnolia Farmers' market, I couldn't resist the lure of the flat of raspberries on the seat next to me as I drove. I popped one in, expecting sweetness. What arrived instead was a tart sweetness, liquid, filling my mouth so completely that for one second I was completely overwhelmed by the taste of it. The taste filled me so entirely that I started to cry. I nearly had to pull over to the curb.

Winter never tastes like this. Summer is grace, in food form.

And especially this summer, when I'm glorying in all the foods that are naturally gluten-free, instead of feeling deprived. Sockeye salmon sauteed in Meyer lemon grapeseed oil and chunks of garlic. Lamb's ear lettuce salads, with arugula and dill, doused in shallot vinaigrette. Dagoba organic chocolates, this time cherry flavored, with gluten-free stamped right on the back. Homemade coleslaw, the cabbage thickly cut, with wasabi mayonnaise. The possibilities are endless. And every day, I feel filled with joy at the thought of eating, knowing that I'll no longer be sick, haggard, exhausted, cranky, or ready to slump over and give up on my body.

This summer, I'm alive

Monday, July 18, 2005


rasberry splotches on my countertop

I just finished making eleven jars of raspberry jam. (It was supposed to be twelve jars, but apparently the portions I spooned into the mason jars were too generous. Oh well.) Only I would do this: never having made jam before in my life, I decide to make it at 10 at night, when the kitchen is cluttered with dishes to be done, and me in my favorite tank top (BUDDHAFUL stretches across the front of it) that I didn’t really want to stain with splotches of red. But I had bought a flat of organic raspberries at the farmers’ market today, and I suddenly realized I should probably make them the day I bought them. My 74-year-old friend, Mary, gave me the recipe for freezer jam as we bobbed in the pool today. (Hydrofit at the Magnolia outdoor pool, on a clear blue-skied day, genuinely hot, and 60 people in the water.) And I went right from there to Ballard, where they close off several cobblestoned streets to all the local farmers, selling their homegrown cheeses and wines, fit-to-burst peaches, and gorgeous Rainier cherries. Every week now, since I returned home from Sitka, I meander over to the famers’ market on Sunday, and I always enjoy it. But today, the sun shone fiercely, not a cloud in the sky, and I watched everyone’s mood lighten with each passing moment. My downstairs neighbor came with me today, and at a certain point, she turned to me and said, “Have I just been hibernating beneath a rock for months? How have I not been here yet?” I don’t know. I’m glad she came today. Today, a Jamaican man played the steel drums on the sidewalk in front of the peaches. Another man with shades stretched across his face played the electric guitar, contorting his face to emote. And a pale man handed out free balloons shaped into animals, although the little kids all seemed scared by them. And there was a moment in the middle of it all, when a plastic bag stuffed with fresh fruit dragged on my left arm, and the sun shone through my smudged sunglasses, when I could feel my body open to all this happiness and just let go into it.

I’m hoping that all this will be in the taste of the jam.

I’ve never made jam before, but now it feels like time. Since I got the gluten-free diagnosis, and I’m feeling healthier than I ever have in my life, I’ve been cooking continuously. The other day, I bought a bottle of exquisite olive oil from Sicily, so good that the shopkeeper had me taste a spoonful, without any accompaniment. It tasted like sharp green olives, warmed by the sun. I closed my eyes to taste it better. So I made homemade pesto, with organic basil and toasted pine nuts, and the olive oil melding it all together. Yum. Hummus with lemon juice, kalamata olives, and cilantro. I could eat that every day. Quinoa pasta. Arugula salads with local goat cheese. Sauteed chicken salad with parsley and scallions. And now, this jam. There’s something deeply satisfying about these domestic tasks. When I was younger, I had no time for them, thinking them something that women in the 50s did. (My brief, angry feminist phase.) But now, I realize that cooking food, doing the dishes, and (now) making jam, are just meditative acts. And considering that I’ll be giving most of these away as gifts, it’s just another way to love people.

Friday, July 15, 2005


summer in Seattle

In the last week I have:

--kayaked Lake Union twice. (I bought a year-long pass to the Northwest Outdoor Center, so now I can just drive by on Westlake, stop by, and say, "Hey, give me a kayak for a couple of hours." And they do. There will, clearly, be more about this later.)
--made homemade pesto, hummus with kalamata olives, arugula salads with meyer lemon dressing and fresh goat cheese, and a gorgeous pasta tonight with sauteed zucchini. (Thank you Ballard farmers' market, the PCC in Fremont, and ChefShop, my new find for today.)
--finished editing and sending off an essay to The New York Times (fingers crossed that they take it)
----hiked Annette Lake with my dear friend, Meri (ah, lovely. If you want to see pictures, go to
--slept in late every morning, because I can in the summer, and I dream well when I sleep long (Sitka sneaks in there all the time, but more and more, it's open spaces)
--talked with dozens of friends on the phone, from all over the world (Yael, come to Seattle in August!)
--helped a filmmaker friend edit his movie script while we sat in front of Macrina Bakery with tall Americanos and chocolate ganache cupcakes (dear Clown. What would I do without our friendship and vigorous arguments about dialogue?)
--meditated every morning (either sitting or on the water)
--read half of Bel Canto (I can't decide if I like it yet)
--saw Me and You and Everyone We Know at the Uptown, and loved it, especially the light (you should see it)
--had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a different friend nearly every day (I have to slow down more)
--did my dishes (honestly, it's pretty great to have the kitchen clean)
---walked around Discovery Park singing (thank you, iPod)
--planned my 40th-birthday extravaganza for next year (maybe, if you're lucky, I'll invite you. More details to follow.)

That's summer in Seattle: vivid experiences and lots of parentheticals.

All my love,

Sunday, July 10, 2005


staring-out-the-window time

I've been home from Sitka for a week, but it took me until today to just rest. I’m lucky enough to know dozens of people in Seattle, good, funny people who care about me. And they all wanted to see me this week. So I said yes, because I really didn’t see most of them during the spring, when I lay on the couch, gripped in pain and wondering if I would ever feel well. So I had lunches and teas and swimming sessions and walks around Greenlake, two and three a day. And I’m exhausted. As much as I love everyone I saw, it took me until today to realize that, by not giving myself time to write, I’m not doing what I love. So I feel disappointed in myself. I feel like my life is out of balance.

Writing, feeling centered, and doing creative work I love requires lots and lots of down time. Lots of staring-out-the-window time. More hours alone than with people in restaurants, actually. Solitude. And it helps if the house is clean, on top of it.

So today, I spent the morning with Jessica (Jessica from camp) in my pajamas. She’s always right there, and we can just be silent. She came over early and lounged in my cluttered living room. I made us poached eggs over sauteed spinach and a pot of strong coffee. We talked and referred to articles in the Sunday New York Times, which was strewn across the floor. I showed her pictures from camp. We looked over Beatles albums, deciding the songs to put on a mix cd I’m making for her husband. (Somehow, he grew up without knowing the Beatles?!) And then we wandered to the Ballard Farmers' Market. This is one of the wonders of Seattle--the weekly farmers’ markets. Nearly every neighborhood in Seattle has one running, from May to October. On Sundays, several streets in Ballard are blocked off to traffic. White flags wave in the breezes. People stroll with dogs and kids, everybody smiling. And there are thirty or forty booths, filled with fresh rasberries, spicy arugula, golden beets, and goat cheeses. Hippie-looking women sell hand-crafted candles and pink sandstone jewelry. And there are hot crepes, pizza slices from brick ovens, and sauteed Asian vegetables. Men with long hair talk philosophically with their short-haired girlfriends. And everyone looks like they live in Seattle: little makeup, fresh-scrubbed faces, wide-open glances, dressed in environmentally friendly clothes, and kind. Sometimes, a little insufferable with how earnest they are trying to be. But the peaches are so juicy that they drip down my fingers when I eat them. The blueberries burst open. And the bing cherries taste sweeter because I know this is the last week of the year I can have them. I came home with a bag full  of fresh fruit, a handmade blue cheese, and a bouquet of sunflowers. I wish you had been here. You would have loved it.

And then, I spent the rest of the day by myself. At first, I intended to clean the house, immediately. Start writing within fifteen minutes. Have so much accomplished by the end of the day that I would surprise myself. But instead, I lay down on the couch and stared at the ceiling. Drifted from one random task to another, never quite completing anything. Watched some dumb tv. And somehow, within a few hours, I had a solid idea for a new essay, a clear direction to publish an essay that has been with me for years, a new chapter idea for the gluten-free book, and the space between my ears free to start working on my novel again. All it takes is some down time.

I feel like I am back, now. Now that I have been alone all day.

Still miss Sitka, though.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Sitka montage 2005

vast traffic light
Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.
At the beginning of every July, I send out a montage in words of Sitka to my colleagues and friends. This year, I want to share it with you too. Some of it won't make sense. Hopefully, some of it will resonate. And all great writing is always about letting go.

So here it is. And if you'd like to see more photos, take a look at:

Sitka 2005

Day one (Friday):

I am in Sitka, as I write. I'm in Sitka. I'm going to have to repeat this to myself seven hundred times before it feels real. Sharon, Lyn, and I were walking back from town, after slurping milkshakes from the Harry Race pharmacy, stopping in the health food store for gluten-free supplies, and looking into the Back Door to find out about Sunday cinnamon rolls (because Mojos is gone! What?!). And we looked up to see an enormous eagle, just above our heads, soaring in the golden light against the dark green trees, more powerful than us. He reached out his giant yellow talons, slowly, then descended, as though soaring, but downwards. Lyn had tears in her eyes, and I did too.

I love this place.

The light outside the window right now looks like liquid gold.

I'm home.

Who are all these new people, though? Where is Beverly? Jessica? Reber? Kristin? I don’t know about these new people yet.

Sharon and I have adjoining rooms, connected by the bathroom between us. Uh-oh. This is a recipe for no sleep.

At the faculty barbeque, we stood with our backs to the mountains, grinning at the camera, new to each other, but on the edge of something beyond us all. A gorgeous day.

Day two (Saturday):

We're all staying at the Mt. Edgecumbe high school dorms, which were newly refinished this spring, making us the first residents. If you don't know where that is, we're on the other side of the bridge, on Japonski Island. Go past the bridge, take the first right, go through the grey concrete and gravel path of the construction sight, stop to gawk at the eagles soaring over the water, then walk up to the door. They look a little like army barracks. And of course, there are foibles. Clearly, it was a cheap construction. The floors are made of plasticized wood, and Dawn told us the first night that they buckle if you leave water spilled on them. So I'm walking around my room after a shower, delicately dabbing with toilet paper. The toilets, which are shared between two rooms, have a sucking loud flush like a tsunami. The first time I used mine, I thought I was going down in it. And when you're trying to sleep, you can hear the squelching roar around the building. And the kitchen has an enormous freezer, and a minuscule refrigerator. But really, it's okay. The rooms are pretty enormous, with windows overlooking the harbor, and sturdy bunk beds. We have two closets each, and an enormous sink space in the room. And finally, it's much much much better than the nursing home. Nuff said.

Karl is teaching strings. He's quiet and thoughtful, sensitive and open. A little overwhelmed by our wackiness, I think. But this morning he told me that he had a flying dream last night, so he's here.

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 then into Totem Park. The eagles were calling to each other. The sun shone bright and clear, infusing all the leaves with an electric green. And the beautiful field, with the large totem in the middle, still felt sacred in solid sunlight. I could feel Sharon relaxing next to me. She's already hooked.

And then we went to the welcoming ceremony for the camp, which this year happened under an enormous tent erected on the green field. The students gathered in growing excitement. And we all introduced ourselves, in suitable fashion, making everyone laugh, and loving it. Scott finished the introductions by giving the last instructions while doing a handstand. His wallet fell out of his pocket, Roger stole his credit card, and Scott crashed down on Roger's back.

Ah, we're at camp.

As the light was starting to fade, Lyn, Sharon, and I were walking over the bridge. And we spotted this older lady, perhaps near 80, on her bike. Her back hunched, she wore a flowered brown top, and bright magenta lipstick smeared across her lips. She smiled at us as she wheeled by, and we all waved. And then she continued pumping her legs, urgently, and with great lightness, and cycled back to her home. I just loved her.

And when I go to bed at night, I put on my eye mask, to help me sleep when it's not even dark out. But when I wake up in the morning, I find that I have taken it off in the middle of the night, neatly folded it, and put on the desk next to me. Probably because I don't want to miss a moment of light.

That's Sitka today.

Day three (Sunday):

Here I am, back in the library, solidly seated on an orange cushion chair, writing with a new set of students. Already, I love them. Already, we feel like a group.

Maya gave me a beautiful striped scarf, glorious in reds and oranges, pinks and purples, Sitka sunset, tassles at the end. It’s around my neck right now, and I feel safe in this space. I can see that several of the students are writing fast, flipping the pages to write more, their cheeks flushed. I love that I can guide them to this.

Sharon and I shout, “Hi Anne!” across the lounge, and everyone looks confused, except Lyn who is grinning.

Anja and Roger, with twin gleaming trombones, play “Elephant Fly-Up,” which she wrote herself.

Tony dancing on the stage the first ArtShare, all of us agape as he twisted and spun, kicked and popped. A tremendous start. And this is art too.

Clop. Clop. Clop. My boots make hollow, horse-like sounds as I walk across the bathroom floor. The ends of both the heels fell off without warning, leaving my boots bereft and hilarious. Sharon falls down laughing every time I walk by, then says I sound like the marionette of a little Dutch girl. Clop. Clop. Clop.

Day four (Monday):

I swiped a bike from in front of Rasmussen and biked downtown to the Galley Deli for curried tofu salad. (Not being able to eat at the cafeteria turns out to be an expensive blessing.) It felt good to be on a bike, balancing on the bony structure, flying faster than I could ever walk. Joy. I forded my way through the crowds of tourists downtown, swerved by trucks and waved to people I know. It makes me proud that no one in downtown Sitka mistakes me for a tourist, just off the boat and ambling like a sheep. I feel like I know this place now. Not all the corners. Not like if I lived here. But pretty well. Well enough to write about it now.

And all my classes are writing. I give them homework every night, and they write, voluminous essays and the starts of good poems. We’re on summer vacation, and they’re avidly writing.

Ed dances around in his gorilla outfit on stage at Centennial Hall, only one banana instead of seven, but still just great.

Late at night in the dorm, there’s a light knock on the door. We open it, and there stands Forrest, naked. “The stripper’s here!”

Day five (Tuesday):

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 in Juneau 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.

Sharon, Lyn, Carol, and I drove to the big Seamart, "out at the end of the road," as the locals call it. We drove and drove, laughing, until we spotted it. The most beautiful view from a parking lot in the world. This rather-large-for-Sitka grocery store 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.

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. Every night is going to be like that. 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. Sprawled across chairs, our legs dangling over the arms, laughing. And when we laughed especially hard, our backs arched up, in unison, or at least in rhythm.

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.

And it was fine. They were both joyful, alive pieces, with no deep darkness. And to my pleasant surprise, people were just as deeply moved by the light pieces as the ragged, traumatic ones. It felt good. I felt like I was at home.

Man, but I was intimidated reading after Robert. His piece was so moving, so genuinely pulled from the heart. What an evening.

Day six (Wednesday):

Tired. This is when the exhaustion sets in. The twin mattress on the bunk bed is lumpy and too soft. The coffee isn’t ready in the morning when I come down to the lounge. And I’m not getting more than seven hours of sleep, more like six, and never without waking up through the night. But, no matter. I still love it here. I still revel in all the imperfections.

Life. I adore it. Last period, in advanced writing, we talked about wonder. And this was after they had shared their essays for almost forty minutes. And they were generous with each other, sharing comments about what they loved, the images they noticed. They clearly adore being here together, and I’m so honored I could help make that space for them. I can feel, after only two classes, that this camp is changing them already. And that’s a more potent power than fame or money could ever be. In past years, I have wondered why schools couldn’t be more like this, why I couldn’t have this feeling of freedom and utter joy all the time. But now, I know that this particular feeling of connection and absurdity, reaching out and risking, love and wonderful humor, could only happen here. Only in Sitka.

Day seven (Thursday) :

The exhaustion has settled along our bones, of course. We each teach three, hour-and-a-half-long classes, attend an hour-long ArtShare every evening, prepare our classes for the next day, go grocery shopping, eat together, talk together, drink together. (And I have papers to mark up, on top of that.) There's no real down time, no significant alone time, and everything is connected. So it's a joyful exhaustion, but it's still exhaustion.

Yesterday, everyone reached that state of saying, "Why are we here, exactly?" (“I’m not coming back.”) Except for me, because I know, and they will too, by the end of this. And the exhaustion has just led to a punch-drunk goofiness. We have a big lounge where we're staying, the best faculty-hang spot of any of the places we've been. Now that we're all starting to know each other, everyone is drifting there after ArtShares, laughing and drinking wine. But we don't have a corkscrew, so last night I had to poke the cork into the bottle to get us some red wine, which made it spray all over the wall behind the sink. Oh well.

Lyn and Sharon and I have especially been laughing hard. I already knew, since I was sixteen years old, that Sharon can make me laugh at the slightest twitch. But it turns out that Lyn is just like us, laughing at all the little word slip-ups that come out of tired mouths. Don't ask me why "I like someone who can validate my cinnamon" is funny, or why we all howl when we call each other Anne, but boy do we laugh. We're just sitting in our rooms, nearly peeing our pants, every evening. Last night, Sharon laughed so hard as she was sitting on the edge of her bed that she catapulted herself backward and thunked her head on the little ledge at the head of it. (Don't ask why it's there. It's a weird place.) But after we found out she was all right, we went back to laughing.

And lord, it's beautiful here. Certain casts of light make me stop talking and stop moving and just gawk. The green humps of treed islands in the steel-grey water glimmer with movement and swaying branches. It does a body good to look out the window in the morning and see snow-capped mountains so close I can feel their breath upon me.

And now, as I type in this dinky library, in my one period off in the day, Kari is practicing her cello upstairs. She plays for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and she just arrived last night. So Bach, played slowly, with a deep, rich tone, is filling the air as I write.

That's Sitka.

Day eight (Friday):

Sharon and I were walking to camp from the Highliner with Tony and Kemal, the rain pounding down on us in big drops. And it felt like routine. We’ve only been here seven days and already it feels like my life. Last year’s camp feels like a pleasant memory, instead of something secured into my brain. When I first arrived, I thought, “Who are these people? Where are all my friends?” But now, these new people are starting to be my friends.

“Have you seen the minivan? Does anyone know where it is?”

In the cafeteria, everyone else around me ate corn dogs and tater tots. Tony, who was wearing a black head rag and red baseball cap perched atop it, had never eaten a corn dog before. We finally convinced him to take a bite, and he liked it. But he loved the Tater Tots. “Oooh, I love Tater Tots!” he shouted.
And Sharon and I responded at the same time, “Why don’t you marry them, then?”
“And then you can have children with them.”
“Yeah!” he shouted. “Tony Tots!”
And we all fell apart laughing.

Every class period, we’ve been reading selections from terrible books. Today, it was How to Enjoy Music by Ethel Peyser, written somewhere in the 1930s. In explaining folk dance, she began discussing Greek tragedy, the etymology of which comes from goats. “Tragedy and goats! What queer things happen in the arts!” The students roared with laughter. We’re going to have make a t-shirt with that saying on it, the motto of the camp now.
The days are starting to glide into one another now, in the loveliest way. I'm fully acclimated to the schedule now, and I'm starting to mourn the fact that it's going so fast. I'm having a brilliant time. Laughing. Having great classes. Making new friends. Gawking at the eagles perched in the fir trees. Drinking coffee at the Back Door. Feeling at peace. It's all going too fast. I don't want to come home yet.

I love this place. Magic happens here.

After the raw connection and remnants of tears from the raw, real discussion of death in Advanced Writing, I knew we needed something joyful for Poetry. We needed to be rinsed clean. "Let's go outside and feel the rain on our faces," I said to them spontaneously. And instead of complaining that it would be cold and they'd be smirched by the experience, they all leapt up. I love camp kids. We ran into the cold, fat raindrops and danced. Some twirled. Some splashed, jumping the water onto their pants. Some ran. Some turned their faces to the sky and closed their eyes. Berett ran to the top of the hill and twirled in slow circles, opening her arms wide to the world. Just as I noticed her, Adrienne did too. So the older sister ran toward her younger one, as fast as she could, to meet her, and join in the moment. It filled me with joy to see it, to see all of them, giddy and accepting, laughing together. Kari lay down on the grass, her pink pants darkened with rain drops immediately. She gave her body to the ground and lay there without moving, just to feel the rain upon her face fully. Beautiful. I ran to Maya, held out my hands, and we spun each other around and around, until we were so dizzy we had to let go. Adrienne ran to me, and we grabbed hands. I looked at her face as we twirled around, her smile wide. I don't think she could have stopped smiling at that moment if she had tried. And then I looked past her shoulder to the world circling around me. The harbor. Sailboats. Mountain. Eagles floating by. Green trees. Water. Mast. Boat. Tree. Feet. Ground. Grass. Sky.

It was a moment of utter delight, no thought. Just breath and twirl and smile and yes.

So one class was death. And the other was life. (And the one before them, breakfast.)

That's camp.

And then there was staff karaoke night. The Columbia Bar in downtown Sitka, where the bathrooms are marked He-Pee and She-Pee. Ten natives stared at us as we walked in, but within an hour, we were all friends. By the end, Suzy kept coming up to hug us all and say, “I love you. What’s your name?” Roblin started us off with “It’s Not Unusual to Be Loved by You.” Sharon ripped her heart out and handed it to us with “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Roger sang back-up on the Supremes (whoo!) and did back-up dancing on “Like a Virgin.” All the male teachers lined up on one side, the women on the other, to sing “Summer Nights” to each other. Dancing, hilarity, silliness, Carol belting out Janis Joplin and all us joining in--and most of it on very little alcohol. Roblin played along as we sang “Baby, Hit Me One More Time,” mock slapping us and the three of us dropping to the floor in mock-horror. Ed tried to sing “Getting Jiggy with It,” couldn’t keep up, all of us joined in to help cover his foibles, and we couldn’t keep up either. And finally, I sang “I’m a Little Teapot,” on Roblin’s dare, and because it went on forever, Sharon leapt up to do some hip-hop dancing to it.

The evening ended with most of the staff stuffed into the minivan, singing “Gloria” as loudly as possible, stopping only when we reached the bridge to watch Roblin moon us. But of course.

Day nine (Saturday):

For the last class before our day off, I took my poetry class on a silent walk to Totem Park. I asked them to listen, deeply, not talk, and write down every image that struck them:

the crunch of gravel pulsing beneath my feet
skim and skiffle of rivulets of water
the tart orange salmonberry makes me spring back in surprise
the tumble and hush of waves stumbling onto shore
where the curve of the road meets the angle of the beach
squiggly squeak of an eagle
the water caressing a rock, enveloping it for a moment
glimmers glinting on grey water
giant green leaves, rising slowly to applaud
the small pool of sunlight on the pine-needle floor
how little language it takes for Adrienne to say, “Don’t eat that berry.”
the sun warm on my eyelids as I move into the dapples of light
heading toward the open field, the sacred space
raising my voice above a whisper in here, after so much silence, feels like a sin

And it hits me again, how easy it is. To cultivate compassion for the world, and for yourselves, lsiten. Notice everything as though it all deserves our attention, and everything follows.

And then it’s time for Berry Island.

We’re all so tired. Sherry falls asleep up against her bass on the boat.

But stepping onto that green sanctuary, all the tiredness falls away. Salmon. Wine. Sushi rice. Jazz music in the wooden cabin. The hot tub. The endless astonishment that someone actually lives here. Happy faces, relaxed at last. Floating along on kayaks under and orange and purple sky. And the silent boat ride home, filled with the wonder of it all.

Day ten (Sunday):

I eagerly gather everyone who wants to come to the Back Door for cinnamon rolls. When we reach that sanctuary, I suddenly wonder why, when I can’t even eat the damn things. But the coffee’s great, the company better. We sit on stools, laughing together, consulting the pink magic 8-ball for nearly an hour on every important issue of our lives. (“Heart never!”)

Kari, Carol, Sharon and I hiked up Mt. Verstovia. There are no words for the beauty of the experience. This time last year, I was plagued by perpetual headaches, the ten-minute walk to campus was too much for my back, and I felt exhausted all the time. But today, I walked up a mountain. I exulted at the top, near tears, not just because the enormous vista was stunning in the true sense of the word, but also because I had made it.

And then we came down off the mountain, threw on our fancy dresses, and danced at the jazz concert. And roared our approval of the b-boy dancer and the clown, cavorting on stage.

Day eleven (Monday):

6:15 in the morning. Blam! Blare! Byenh! I smack my head on the bunk bed above in my startle, then realize it’s the fire alarm. We all straggle down to the front of the building, bedraggled in our pajamas, and sit on the curb in the rain. I take one look at Jara’s wet hair and realize what has happened. Lyn comes out last, looking frazzled and half-asleep, stumbles to the white wall of the other building as far away from us as possible, sits next to the grill, alone, and smokes a cigarette.

And Tony and Kemal slept through it all.

Man, I am tired. I forget how exhausted I grow by this time in camp. The day off helps, but we also relax. And then, girding ourselves up for teaching again seems to require an enormous effort. And I’m not sure I have the effort in me.

But somehow, I found my energy. Being with these kids always does it to me. Mollie read a letter she had written to someone in Australia, trying to describe the experience of being at camp, and how it has opened her. “I feel less immersed in myself here,” she wrote, and I know exactly what she means. Franny, the counselor, wrote a piece she needed to write about her mom’s aging and sadness. Today, she tried to read aloud, but she couldn’t finish it. Sh started to cry, and she just couldn’t continue. The students’ response was incredibly kind, immediately real. I’m just so moved by them. As Franny said before she read: “I’m just so inspired by your openness, by your ability to read these vulnerable pieces aloud, to share all these parts of yourselves with us.” Yes. So am I.

“Ever since Karl jumped into the ocean....”

“We have to go to bed, Sharon. It’s late. Oops. It’s one am. Again.”

Day twelve (Tuesday):

“Where are the keys to the minivan? Did you check in the middle compartment?”

Scott, Roblin, Carol, and Sharon do improv at Centennial, and I’m laughing loudly, again. (Every morning, after the performance the night before, the students say, “I heard you laughing!” Um, who couldn’t?) But this time, I’m not the loudest laugher. Anna, the counselor, gulps in air as she laughs and sounds like a a tubercular patient on steroids. I love it.

Roblin and Dawn do a clown act so moving that I cry after laughing. And behind them, Karl, Kari, and Pamela in clown noses.

And then afterwards, the curtains pulled back, eagles emerging from the mists surrounding the mountains. And Kari playing Bach on her cello, giving herself fully through her instrument, connecting with us deeply without words, without artifice.

I can’t stop crying.

Day thirteen (Wednesday):

Once again, they have burst into squeals of hysterical laughter, unbounded by the ability to pay attention. Once again, it’s impossible to write. But these are the moments I love. Kari Paustian started laughing about something so hard that she bent her head to the page and bounced her ponytail up and down. Folded her arms and just laughed and laughed. I honestly don’t know what made her laugh so hard, but it rarely matters in these situations. She started making these breathy squeaks and squeals, like a guinea pig. And she was gone. No question. She had lost it. We all laughed so hard we hurt. She had to stumble away, like Berett the other day, but at least this time she didn’t knock over the trash can.

And this is a poetry class.

Day fourteen (Thursday):

The last day of classes. And there’s a definite sense of mourning in the air. How did it go so fast? How did I not know these students two weeks ago?

Ludvigs. All those toasts. No one spilled wine this year, except down their throats. That steak, with blue-cheese butter and sauteed mushrooms. Hank coming in with a clown nose on, arms spread wide. Cheering for everyone. And in one strange moment, three or four women singing “The Brady Bunch” theme song with great gusto. And then three or four more tv theme songs. (See Mike Sullivan? I told you this would make it into the montage.)

Dancing at Ernie’s to the jukebox afterwards, the locals staring at us in amazement again.

We long ago gave up on the idea of full nights of sleep.

Day fifteen (Friday):

One more morning at the Back Door. “Cafe au lait with soy?” the girl with glasses behind the counter asks me, and I know I’m home. And I have to leave tomorrow.

In the afternoon, in the full grey rain, the creative writing students gave a reading in the tent. A wooden floor, the green and white awning, and the steady pulse of rain just beyond us. Music ensembles playing, with a fabulous saxophone rendition of “When I’m 64.” The grey rain pounding down outside our safe space, creating a rhythm, a timpani of sound, the beat for the reading. And these kids sharing themselves, fully.

The last performances of camp, at Centennial Hall. Mike Caldwell has the floor. His last remarks, sweetly grateful. How much he has loved Sitka. How he speaks for us all. And then, “This kid is my uncle!”

Later, we come back to dance, amidst lasers and smoke, disco ball glittering. Kari, Carol, and I ran around the room in grateful joy, thrilled to exhaust our muscles. We made Wade dance, and eventually he took off his plaid shirt and really danced! Even Roger danced, and we whooped with happy approval. Toward the end, Roger and I burst through all the circles of dancers formed around the room, flailing our arms, fully abandoning the self-consciousness of the teenagers around us.

And right before the end, all the students in Centennial Hall spontaneously formed a massive circle on the dance floor. And without prompting, they each ran to the center of the circle and showed off all the techniques they learned in Tony’s class. Everyone who formed the circle shouted and cheered, pressing them on with their noise. And soon, there was a big clump of them, popping and strutting and doing moves on the floor they had no idea they could do just two weeks before. All of us faculty members stood there and cheered in exultation, knowing what a gift this camp has been for all of us.

Day sixteen (Saturday):

All those goodbyes. Damn it, I hate them.

$10.65 for an omelette? Remind me not to eat at the Sitka airport again.

The plane takes off, and we can see the green lawn of the campus growing smaller. And then the grey clouds suck up the plane, and it’s gone.

Goodbye, Sitka.

And all this week, my brain has been flashing fast images at me, as I try to go to sleep:

Making coffee in the morning with Dawn, both of us yawning and in our pajamas, feeling comfortable together, talking out the day.

The 8:20 am shuttle, which left later and later every morning, Sharon and I running out the front door with Raven’s Brew coffee mugs in our hands, a yogurt and a spoon. Bags flying.

Having classes outside on the wide green lawn under an enormous blue sky.

The Skagway girls looking at me with amazed faces, and answering every question with “Yes, Ma’am.”

Berett coming into class with blue makeup.

Walking to the cafeteria for lunch, all of us filled with stories since breakfast.

The eagles flying in slow circles above my head, and I finally have time to write fully.

Walking across the bridge, in the rain. The red light. A little bit more of the sidewalk disappears each day.

Leo in his white long underwear, watching old movies in the lounge.
Mike and Valerie working every day, all those nights, on the directory.

Peach milkshakes. Mediocre sushi. Amy’s frozen tv dinners. Emptying out the green cooler every night, dumping the water, filling it up with ice from the ubiquitously noisy ice machine, tucking in the tofu and soy milk away for another day.

The yellow sunlight through grey clouds over the bridge.

Carol and Scott doing stage combat. How disturbing the second act was.

Lyn’s photographs. The hush in the room. Students not wanting to move.

Terry always there at my side, ready to help, even before I can ask.

The cheerfulness of Charles, always ready with a question, and an enormous smile.

Heather biking across the bridge, still energetic and willing to help after working another ArtShare.

Laura saving the day when the two shows on Sunday were left without technical support.

Gary, always himself. Always Gary.

Does Mike Sullivan know how to play every single instrument known to man?

Much of the faculty piled into Lane 7 to drink milkshakes and laugh.

Pamela playing piano at nearly every ArtShare, giving and indispensable.

Bob Athayde slipping a kind note under my door, late at night.

The vivid colors and gorgeous generosity of Lynne’s kids’ paintings and Mark’s students’ drawings.

Therese’s enormous smile, always true, always there.

Ellen’s goofy grin. She stayed up until 4 am to finish a project with the kids.

Because we’re all like that. We’d do anything for these kids.

So that’s it, for now. Except for every moment I’ll never be able to capture. All I know is that it was a glorious two weeks, and I’m deeply grateful to have them be a part of me. I’ve been writing all week, clear and firece, feeling alive. Everything feels different after camp, once again. Thank you for being there.

And of course, I grew to love the new people just as much as the loved ones from years past. We’ve shared Sitka now. And to paraphrase Mike, I guess this means that now you are all my brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


the sweetness of the rain

It finally rained here. Since the moment my plane touched down in Seattle, the sky has been wide and clear. Don’t misunderstand me—I love that open blue sky. But after all those beautiful overcast days in Sitka, I needed the rain. And all day today, the world was waiting for the clouds to converge together and pour open. Seattle is rarely muggy, unlike New York, which exudes muggy air like a sweaty man in a sauna. But today, Seattle was muggy. Tensed, waiting for the sky to split open. I felt like that too. I just haven’t left Sitka yet.

It's strange to be in such close physical proximity with people for two weeks, sharing the same experience, gawking at the beauty, and then watching everyone scatter. I'm not good at this.

I also miss the genuineness of everyone in Sitka. Last night, I went to some friends' house to watch the fireworks. I never make much of the Fourth of July, especially these days, when I’m not so thrilled with the current government. Instead of picnics and brandishing red white and blue, I like to spend that day doing as little as possible. Probably because I’m gathering myself after Sitka, wondering who I am now after such a wonderful dip in the warm ocean of love that is camp. I thought I would spend the entire evening by myself, writing and listening to music. But at the last moment, I decided to go to David and Dorothy’s, to the party at their condo at the top of Queen Anne hill. Some of my closest friends were there, and I loved being with them. But somehow, I just couldn't be there, fully.

Instead, I kept thinking about being in Centennial Hall, the curtains pulled back, eagles emerging from the mists surrounding the mountains. And Kari playing Bach on her cello, giving herself fully through her instrument, connecting with us deeply without words, without artifice.

And then I came back to fireworks, talk of the Iraq war, and just too many buildings below me.

I left early.

But by the end of the morning today, I felt better. I woke up and left my house immediately, without thinking, driving to Discovery Park, where I walked all last summer. Acres upon acres of forested land, opening to wide bluffs overlooking the water. Everything feels vast there. In a completely different way than Sitka vastness, but still vast. I took the Camelpak backpack I bought at REI yesterday (after my time in Sitka, I’m in hiking mode), loaded up with water, and my iPod loaded up with new songs. And I walked the loop trail, almost three miles of verdant spaces and dusty trails. It’s like being in the mountains, fifteen minutes away from my house. By the end of the hour, I had worked up a sweat in the humidity and a smile from being back in nature. I’m going back every morning now.

Because it finally hit me this morning—oh thank goodness, it’s summer vacation.

All day long, I’ve been working on a montage of images from camp. Every year I do this, offer these images to all the faculty members as a final gift of the camp. I’ve been putting off writing it for days, because finishing it means that camp is truly done. And I hate admitting that. But true happiness always comes from letting go. That opens up my life to the next great moment. Like writing this now.

And smelling the sweetness of the earth rise up in the rain. I can hear the cars splashing outside as I write this. The muggy hold on everything has loosened. It’s raining again. I’m back home now.

All my love,

Sunday, July 03, 2005


"Wronk! Wronk! Wronk!" shouts the raven.

I'm home from Sitka, just last night. Sigh.

I haven't been able to write in here in a week, maybe longer. It feels like months, because so much happens at my lovely little camp that I can never keep up. I'm stuffed with images. And over the next few days, I'll try to write them down in a sensory montage, let go of the need for narrative, and post it in here. But for now, know that it has changed my life, once again.

I miss camp. I miss Maya and Finn and Berett and Adrienne and Anthea and Becca and Tamsen and Molly and Mollie and Connor and Kari and Aren. I miss seeing all my students, some of whom I didn't know existed three weeks ago but now they feel like family. I miss seeing the faces of the people I didn't teach but liked because they were at camp. And I miss teasing Karl, checking my email next to Scott in the morning, making coffee with Dawn, walking next to Kari and talking, romping with Carol, hugging Roblin, and laughing with Lyn. And oh, how I miss Sharon. She and I never have the chance to spend two weeks straight with each other, and especially not in magic-place Sitka, so these were two of the best weeks of my life. But those two weeks at camp are always two of the best weeks of my life.

So what do we do afterwards? (And by we I mean the collective unconscious that is everyone at camp.)

Well, I know now that I have to give myself a solid week to decompress. For the first few days when I return home, I feel adrift. In Sitka, I feel so saturated with all these people and gorgeous moments I love that I literally don't know what to do with myself at first. This year, helpfully, a clump of us took the same plane home. Kari had a layover in Seattle for the evening, so she and Carol and I went to Wild Ginger for dinner and reminiscing about Sitka. We all just love it so. Carol went home, Kari and I stayed up until late talking, and then we slept for four hours. Just like all the other nights in Sitka, when Sharon and I stayed up late talking, far too late, and then the morning felt like ragged towels being dragged across our eyes from too-little sleep. Kari had a 6 am flight, so I woke up to wait for the shuttle with her. The light was rising, just like in Sitka, but the birds sounded different. I miss the ravens when I leave. She left, and I went back to bed, feeling truly alone for the first time in weeks. Thankfully, I was able to sleep.

And today, I moved slowly, let myself feel bereft. Over and over, I realize that the only way out is through. (to quote Camus.) Or, to be Buddhist about it, to let the moments arise unbidden, without worrying that I feel sad or lost. Feel them fully, accepting, and they start to change. And this year, I do feel different. In the past, I have mourned after leaving Sitka. But now, I know that I'm part of the place, firmly, and it is part of me. I know I'm coming back next year. I don't doubt it. Every year is slightly different, and every year is magic. And every year, my life blooms in unexpected ways from being there. So this year, I just feel excited, waiting to see the effects splay themselves out in my life.

This afternoon, I drove over to Vashon Island, to see my nephew. I had missed him. The Seattle sky arched warm and blue above my head. On highway 99, heading to the West Seattle bridge, I realized it in my body: it's summer vacation. (Our last day of school was the day before I came to Sitka, so I hadn't felt free here in awhile.) I rolled all the windows down, popped in the cheesy cd that Sharon and I had driven around Sitka listening to for days (in a borrowed mini-van, which is always going to be hilarious), and felt alive. Warm air, fast car, loud singing with the windows open--these are good. And my nephew, he's good too. He ran to the door to greet me. "Shauna!!" he shouted, and I felt at home again. We ran and romped and drove in the car and went to eat lunch and played at the park. Apparently, a few days ago, when Dana (my sister-in-law) was drawing him an airplane, he said: "Shauna take an airplane. To Alaska. Her coming back soon?" That's enough to make me feel at home. So we were in the park, and I was pushing him in the swing, and now he likes to pretend that he's flying somewhere in his swing. When I asked him where he was flying, he said immediately: "Alaska!" So I told him a long list of what he might see in Alaska: whales, bears, deer, sea lion, trees, mountains, water, eagles, and ravens. I started to miss it, something fierce, just explaining it to a two-year-old. After, I told my parents, who were watching, the story of how the fire alarm had gone off at 6:15 am, and how when I returned to my bed, I heard this loud "cronk cronk cronk" outside. And I realized it was the raven imitating the fire alarm. All while I'm pushing my nephew in the swing. A few minutes later, he started making noises. My brother was pushing him by this time, and he didn't understand. "Wronk! Wronk! Wronk!" Elliott shouted, over and over. When Andy asked him what he was saying, he said, "I's a raven, Daddy!" And he kept shouting the sound in utter delight. It made me happy. It made me feel like I had brought Sitka home with me, and now it's in my nephew.

This evening, when I returned home, I rode my bike around my neighborhood, in the soft evening light. Seattle freaks me out now--the density of houses, the well-paved roads, the immensity of the grocery stores, the expensive clothes on the dozens of people I pass on the streets. And the missing mountains. There are beautiful mountains here--the Olympics stop my heart whenever I see them, and the sight of Mount Rainier looming over Puget Sound made me cry today--but they aren't like Sitka mountains. Everything is smaller and larger in Sitka. Smaller town, smaller options, smaller mountains. But more vast, closer, everywhere, infused in the air. Nature isn't a concept where in that place I love so well. But I like where I live too, though. Last night, Kari and I agreed that we have both reached the place that feels best in life: wanting the life you have. No gaps between concept and reality. Riding around the blocks, I could feel myself coming home. A different self, of course. Now, at the age I am, and after all the experiences of the last few years, I know that the Buddhist philosophy of no-self is true. It isn't a concept to me. I change every day. And after Sitka, I take a radical shift. I can't wait to see what happens next. But I know that some of part of me, in memory, will always be standing at the top of Mount Verstovia, surveying the view, feeling triumphant. It will always be with me.

All my love,

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