On Writing, Then and Now

18 10 2012

Happy National Day on Writing, friends!

Yeah, that’s little me. Some things haven’t changed much since 1980, parked at a desk in my parents’ Wasilla, Alaska, veterinary clinic. I still keep a stash of animal crackers nearby as motivation, and still absentmindedly tug my lower lip when the words aren’t coming as quickly as I’d like. I still believe written words are worth spending the afternoon with.

(From a slightly comfier chair now, though, and without the red pants.)

You, sweet friends, have shown your own belief that words are worth spending time with. Last week included a big day here: on October 11, Hooked crossed 50,000 views. That’s an achievement that I wouldn’t have dared dream of when I launched this blog a year and a half ago, and one wholly thanks to you. I’m grateful for such generous readers, commenters, and promoters.

Off the boat for three weeks now, Cap’n J and I have fully settled back into land life. Joel’s taken this month to do as much photography as he can, getting up into the mountains before the winter weather hits.  (Here’s a shot from his recent trip to Mt. Rainer.) I’ve jumped back into the Red Wheelbarrow Writers community, thrilled to have weekly writing dates and a fantastic critique group.  Meanwhile, Bear’s reclaimed her favorite rotation of daily napping spots, and is making up for all the meals she didn’t eat while at sea.

National Day on Writing offers a moment to give thanks for the magic and salvation of words recorded and read. A day is a good start… but my goal is to practice literary zealotry for the coming months. While Joel shoulders another winter of boat projects, my job will be to write the memoir that doesn’t seem to be writing itself, no matter how many attractive outlines and wall-sprawling charts I make.

I’m a lazy, distractible writer. You’d think that the head-down, teeth-gritted endurance that makes me a good fisherman would translate, but I haven’t figured out how to channel that ocean-based work ethic to the page/screen. Having a team helps keep me honest – accountable – so in addition to the local writing meets and critique groups, I’ve signed up for this year’s National Novel Writing Month.

On its 13th year, NaNoWriMo challenges folks to pound out 50,000 words in November – the equivalent of a 175 page novel. Quality work? Eh, not so much; the point is to get the words out, producing a first draft you can then work with. For writers like me, hesitant folks who stutter over every keystroke and hit the backspace more than any vowel, this is a terrifying endeavor.

All the more reason to take the leap.

(NaNoWriMo purists, I’m cheating at the most fundamental levels. Not writing a novel. Not starting from scratch on November 1. Totally hijacking this opportunity to work madly on memoir chapters, hoping to steal strength and perseverance from the collective energy of tens of thousands of writers all rolling the same rock up the same hill at the same time. I know NaNoWriMo has very few rules, and I’m breaking several of them. Can we be buddies anyway?)

So if Hooked seems a bit quiet over the next six weeks, you’ll know why. After all, as Sherman Alexie chided in his recent  “Top 10 Pieces of Advice for Writers”, “Every word on your blog is a word not in your book.”

Ouch – bull’s eye, sir.

But ours is a connected age. Even if I’m not blogging as frequently, we have lots of other ways to keep in touch.

On Facebook? You can “like” my writer’s page to see periodic updates on how it’s going.

In Oklahoma? Check out FISH and listen to a recording of “The Sisterhood,” an essay exploring what it means to be a woman in the oh-so-masculine world of commercial fishing. (That’s take two you’ll hear. Take one was carefully recorded when no one else was home, amidst very premeditated quiet. I’d made it to the concluding paragraphs, thrilled not to have stumbled over my tongue over the previous six pages. Then Bear started throwing up at my feet. Loudly. I tried not to take this personally.)

In Sitka for Whalefest? Come to the maritime-themed Grind on Friday, November 2. The Monthly Grind is an amazing demonstration of local talent; I’m excited to hear everyone’s performances and thankful for the invitation to read.

Attending Seattle’s Fish Expo? Be sure to check out the Fisher Poets on the main stage, 11:30 – 1:00, Thursday, November 29. Get there early to grab a seat: Abigail Calkin, Dano Quinn, Dave Densmore, Patrick Dixon, Thomas Alan Hilton, and I will each have 15 minute performances. (Free expo registration until November 26!)

That’s what the next month holds, friends. If our paths should cross anywhere along the line, please do stop and say hello – I’d love to thank you in person for sharing your time with these words, and contributing your own. Until then, my good thoughts to you, and best wishes for a rich, rewarding Day on Writing.

Are any of you gearing up to be fellow WriMo’ers? If so, good on you brave souls!  Look me up next time you’re on the site (username Tele) and we’ll support each other in this crazy courageous literary marathon. I hope to see you there.





Sharing the Sea: (Too Close) Encounters with Whales

29 07 2011

Cap’n J and I spent the past 12 days chasing coho. They’re always on the move, searching for a steady food source, and they travel incognito, invisible to our above-water existence. But the meal plan they’re looking for, from tiny shrimp-like krill to massive schools of herring, is equally as compelling to other creatures.  Whales, sea lions, porpoises, diving birds, gulls, puffins; the oxygen-dependent are our indicators of the richness of a particular place. They reveal the presence of our target species as effectively as a Hide-and-Seek player with a bad case of the hiccups. As one of our fishing partners says about these spots, “Lotta good groceries here,” and all of the ocean dwellers shop at the same store.

Some travel great distances to find these particular groceries. Southeast Alaska is the summer getaway for thousands of humpback whales. They cruise up for months of easy feeding, bulk up their blubber, and then head south for winter breeding off the coasts of Hawaii and Mexico. A schedule not unlike many fishermen.

In our island communities, where humans always have one foot in the sea, humpbacks are welcome seasonal residents. Each as individually distinct and recognizable as a Down South-based boat pulling back through the breakwater: I see so-and-so’s back in town. The first spouts on the horizon whoosh assurance that summer is actually on its way, while the final arching tails heave goodbyes like great sighs of relief.  Their role in our community is honored with November’s annual Whalefest, now on its fifteenth year. Renowned whale biologist Jan Straley lives here, keeping Southeast at the forefront of cetacean study. We’ve got the Sitka Sound Science Center.  There’s a fantastic website of humpback info, thanks to all of this local expertise and research, here. Sitkans are serious about whales.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has mandated that all vessels maintain a 100 yard distance from whales. A good rule for safe viewing, these regulations are in everyone’s best interest – theirs and ours. Life gets a little too exciting sometimes, when the creatures under protection aren’t interested in maintaining that distance. Graceful, brilliant, confident, curious, and so much more belonging to the environment than us, they seem utterly unconcerned with our presence.

I can’t explain the unusual attraction humpbacks have for us. Maybe it’s our similar size – our 43 foot vessel is right there with their 39 to 52 foot length.  The Nerka is a double-ender, pointy V-shaped ends at both bow and stern, and maybe they like our curves. Could be that the red of our bottom paint is especially provocative.  I can’t explain the attraction, but it’s real: I’ve had far more close encounters in the 6 years I’ve been on the Nerka, than on 16 years’ of previous boat experience.

Most encounters are benign. Several might pace us as we troll along at 2.5 knots, spouting 50 feet off the side, lollygagging on the surface to study us. Others breach in the sun, flinging their 40 ton bulk out of the water far enough away to be breathtaking rather than terrifying, close enough that their landing cracks like cannon fire. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the worst consequence of our interactions is the impact on my productivity. Tough to keep on task, gaze locked down into the fish you’re gutting, when in the midst of your own private National Geographic special.

Cap’n J and I were on our way South several years ago, the salmon season behind us and just a few days’ out of Bellingham. A perfectly still afternoon of glassy water and late September sun, I’d been on the wheel while he slept. He woke up, joined me in the cabin, bleary-eyed over a warmed-up plate of spaghetti. I chattered about how uneventful my watch had been. The Nerka cruised along at 7 knots, when an unspeakably large black mass broke the blue directly below my port helm window. Time stopped. A deafening exhalation, whale air sprayed the glass. (What kind of cleaning spray would you use to remove whale snot?) Our bow rose several feet and rolled starboard.

That time, I responded properly. Yanked the throttle down and threw the boat into neutral. The whale submerged, still so slow and calm, gently returning the Nerka to her even keel. The delicate quiver in Bear’s water dish was the only indicator of the disruption. Eventually I stopped trembling, and we watched our friend spout casually behind the boat, an itch hopefully relieved from his impromptu back scratch.

Other times, our minds fail in moments of critical impact.  On this last trip, we were surrounded by daily whale activity. One day, it was far too close.

We’d had a good day. Found some coho, kept busy enough that it was a throw-something-frozen-into-the-oven night, rather than taking the time for a prepared dinner. I’d rushed into the galley, still in my dripping rainpants while studying the directions on a lasagna, when I heard Joel yelling from the cockpit.

“Holy shit!”

“What?” I hollered back.

He pointed a rubber gloved hand ahead. “It’s right there!”

I grabbed the camera and jumped into the pilot seat. Sure enough, there was a whale directly off our port bow, its broad back splitting the sea within spitting distance. My heart was already beating overtime, when a flicker of motion pulled my attention to our anchor. This is the video from that encounter.

(Salty language in this one. Entirely appropriate to the circumstances, I think you’ll agree, but depending on where you’re viewing this and who’s around, you might turn the volume down.)

You can see I didn’t handle this one properly. So unglued by what seemed like inevitable collision, I completely forgot that the Nerka’s shifter, gears I’ve handled hundreds of times, were immediately within reach. “Fucking neutral” was about six inches from my right hand. And Cap’n J will tell you that he’s never heard that particular tone in my voice before. But once again, we all got lucky. They went about their day, perhaps a bit irritated by their overly-crowded waterway, maybe grumbling to each other about tourists who don’t know how to drive.  It took quite a bit longer for my legs to become solid again.








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