Saturday, October 31, 2015

'planting' published in eleven eleven // chapbooking

It's two months from the end of 2015. That means that the annual frenzy to meet my one chapbook per year objective is beginning in earnest. I'm hoping to do better this year than I have in the last two, when I was editing until late December. My goal for printing this year is November 22, one month earlier than the last two years, though 4 months later than my initial intention for a summer release. I've been "working on it" since early spring, but with outdoor education becoming an ever-larger part of my life and livelihood, I've been away from my computer for much of the last six months. 

Most recently, I worked as a wilderness instructor for Eagle Rock School, walking with heavy packs and wet boots around the Gila Wilderness. I got back to Oakland on Thursday, and am feeling that sweet end-of-the-year procrastinator's pressure for the chapbook. I managed to do a bit of ruminating and planning while in the backcountry, which is the most fun and easiest part. Now comes the writing and editing. 

The place I had my final editing frenzy last year was Philz Coffee in West Berkeley. Near closing time, I had sheets of paper spread around me, working furiously, cutting and taping pieces of poems together with plans to print within the hour. A fellow with thick dark-rimmed glasses and gray hair sat at the table with a friendly nod. As he prepared to leave, he asked me whether I was working on a manuscript. We talked briefly about chapbooks and he gave me his card; it turned out that he was the editor of Eleven Eleven, a literary and art journal out of California College of the Arts.  

Once what is precious was printed (by Office Depot), folded and stapled (by me), I sent him a copy of my chapbook, not thinking much of it other than that I wanted to share with him what I had been working on. Some time later, a different editor emailed me, having read that chapbook, and he invited to submit for Issue 19. I submitted a few pieces, including planting, which was in my very first chapbook, Tracing Steps, and which was accepted. The issue was published and mailed out while I was working. I was excited to come back from Colorado to find the journal and see the piece in print. 
I like that they didn't mind that it was previously self-published; one of the roadblocks to me submitting to journals is that I do much of my writing online and most publications want never-before-seen material.

I only have a couple of copies of Tracing Steps left. I've decided that I won't be printing more of them, and that I'll only print one run of future chapbooks. The mental and physical space needed to keep up with my annual chapbooking goal makes it unsustainable to keep printing new runs of old books.

Writing has become ever more a personal practice more than a professional pursuit, but maybe someday I'll find a publisher interested in editing them all together... or I'll do it myself through the magic of print-on-demand. Who knows.

Off to keep working on the next chapbabe! Or bake cookies.

You can get a copy of Eleven Eleven Issue 19 here.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"How was Alaska?"

Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who
touched your life and every experience that entered it.
We are all part of one another. - Yuri Kochiyama
Weighing in at more than half a pound, my Hydroflask was most certainly an impractical luxury item for the 28-day NOLS Alaskan Wilderness Backpacking trip on which I was recently an Instructor-in-Training. As someone who is 4'11" and under a hundred pounds, every ounce really counts, even if I don't want it to. I am of the mindset that I'd rather go slower with more weight, making due with what I have, rather than go for a newer, shinier, lighter item.

That ideal has to shift when backpacking in a professional capacity, I realize now, but I don't regret bringing the heavy thermos with me. Our 120-mile journey through the Southern Talkeetna Mountains year olds culminated in a cold, rainy all-night hike, and the hot sugary caffeinated concoction I had was well worth the extra weight.

Of course, I won't be bringing it on my next professional trip.

I've been putting off writing a post about Alaska. The task of compiling almost a month's worth of learning and experiences into a comprehensible blog post or trip report has been daunting.

Here's an attempt to sum it up:

We hiked up mountain passes and down into valleys and back up into passes, again and again and again. We walked through icy cold creeks and crossed rivers together in eddy lines. We made cornbread and pizza and cinnamon rolls from scratch. I made cheesy pancakes and oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes and cinnamon raisin pancakes and accidentally made pancake pizza.

I got bruises on my hips and blisters on my feet and sun bumps on my left ear and the climber's bumps on my heels peeled and peeled and peeled. I read Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore and Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. I read excerpts of writing about the construction of wilderness that challenged my existing notions of wilderness, wilderness education, access. I questioned what I was doing there, what I wanted from the experience, what I felt about being the only woman of color on the trip, what I felt about continuing to pursue work with NOLS.

The summer solstice came at the midpoint of our trip. We didn't pack headlamps. We went to the toe of the Chickaloon Glacier. We saw places on our map where glaciers that were there less than 10 years ago no longer exist. We saw caribou and moose and eagles, and some of us saw grizzlies. We ended our hike at the confluence of the Talkeetna River and Iron Creek, where jet boats picked us up for an exhilarating ride to the town of Talkeetna.

Before and after the course, I stayed at the NOLS Alaska base in the town of Palmer, where we grazed on beautiful salads from the garden and freshly baked bread daily. I lived for a few days in a canvas wall tent before the trip, and in a 3-person Kelty tent for the few days I was there afterward. My co-instructor Deev and I practiced acroyoga a few times.

And that was my June 9th to July 19th.

I flew back to Long Beach, read some poetry at Tuesday Night Cafe, performed a wedding ceremony for my good friends, then promptly returned to the Bay Area.

In a few weeks, I'll be out on another backpacking trip, this time as a wilderness instructor for Eagle Rock School. A 23-day trip rather than 28. Again with teenagers.

I plan to apply for a NOLS Instructor Course. If accepted, I'll go on the 35-day course next year. There's still a lot I'm mulling over. What it means to be a woman of color in a historically white male institution. The idea that wilderness conservation displaces indigenous peoples from a way of life intimately connected to nature, and the reality that my parents, who collect rain water and grow practically half of the food they consume, are potentially--likely?-- more in tune with nature than the majority of people who consume the outdoors.

Aparna, former Diversity and Inclusion Manager at NOLS, recently wrote:
It’s one thing to want to make people of color aware of a world of possibilities, to put outdoor adventure on their radar, or even to work to create an inclusive culture in the outdoors that is welcoming to everyone. But it’s quite another thing to presume that of all their choices, people will somehow feel compelled to leave the comfort of a roof over their heads to “rough it” in the woods. Camping, like stamp collecting or painting or driving fast cars or dancing, is not for everybody. And. That. Is. Okay.
I have been thinking a lot about how I've bought into a particular way of consuming the outdoors, consuming wilderness, as a rock climber, as a backpacker, as an outdoor educator. And that there are experiences that I want to pursue that bring up contradictions that are difficult to reconcile. And that I can play a role in the pursuit of a more equitable world even from a place of contradiction. That life is a series of reconciliations.

I started this post with my thermos. The heavy, bright orange vessel made it through the 28-day trip without a scratch. Between the jet boat ride out and the present, however, it's gained some small dents and chips. The latest was a couple of days ago, when I knocked it off the driver seat of my car and onto asphalt as I was loading things. It occurred to me then that all of the dents came after what most would consider a more trying environment for keeping things new. But while I was backpacking, I took better care of it. I usually did only one thing at once. I knew that I had to "go slow to go fast," as my WFR instructor Mazie was fond of saying. I took care of things well. And since I've returned, I've caught myself many times trying to go too fast, doing things while distracted, being less than present.

The outdoors gets sold as a place to get away from it all, to leave the distractions of daily life, the leave the necessary frazzled-ness behind. We talk about how nature allows us to be more in touch with ourselves, so we must preserve these "pristine" areas so that we can go and rejuvenate ourselves and thus perform better in the society as it stands. But the wilderness reminds me that there are so many parts of society that need to change, that need to be calmer, that need to be less fixated on more, newer, faster.

In a few weeks, I'll be trekking through the Gila Wilderness with teenage students. I'll be sharing with them the values that I've reinforced through being outdoors and the skills that I've learned through NOLS and GirlVentures and my personal experience. I'll continue to be perplexed by the complications and contradictions of identity, politics, conservation, consumption, capitalism.

And that's it. There's not really any way to wrap a bow around it. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Into Outdoor Education

Scouting a climbing area with GirlVentures staff at Pinnacles National Park, February 2015
I'm bemused at the turn life has taken. Two years ago, I'd never imagined working in outdoor education. My work life very much revolved around being in the city, in offices and libraries and coffee shops. Then I got the opportunity to work a backpacking trip with GirlVentures in April 2014, shortly after which I signed up for a 5-day Women of Color Backpacking trip with Balanced Rock Foundation which was, amazingly, co-led by a badass Khmer American woman. On that trip and beyond, I met more women of color who integrate outdoor trip leading into their lives, both professionally and personally.

From the NOLS WMI WFR Handbook
After I went to live and work at NOLS in Wyoming for nine weeks and encountered even more people who spent a big part of their lives outdoors, and though only a few of the people I met were Asian American, I gained more of that sense of permission and possibility that I gained from the Balanced Rock trip. I then signed up for a WMI Wilderness First Responder certification course using the Americorps Segal Education Award I'd earned as a Public Ally in Los Angeles back in 2012 (everything is connected). The course would have felt prohibitively expensive if not for that, which is also true of the Balanced Rock course I took-- I received tuition assistance for that, as well.

This past spring, I worked as an instructor on three courses run by GirlVentures: climbing at Pinnacles National Park with 6th grade girls, backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore with 7th grade girls, and climbing at Castle Rock State Park with a mixed-gender group of high school students. It was exhilarating to spend all that time outdoors and to get to watch students transition from being squeamish about camping at all to happily digging catholes.

I would have loved to instruct on one of GV's summer courses if I weren't embarking on another trip on Wednesday: I'm heading to Alaska to spend 30 days backpacking in the Eastern Chugach Mountains with 3 NOLS instructors and a group of 12 students, age 16 &17. It will be my first time spending so long in the backcountry, my first time in Alaska, and my first time witnessing the NOLS progression.

I'm excited and nervous, which typically means I've made a good decision.